John Bois & Stephen J. Mullin (2017)
Dinosaur nest ecology and predation during the Late Cretaceous: was there a relationship between Upper Cretaceous extinction and nesting behavior?
Historical Biology (advance online publication)
Many hypotheses have been advanced to explain the K/Pg extinctions, yet none closely examines the likely interactions between dinosaurs and contemporary taxa within their communities. The diversity of predators of dinosaur nests and hatchlings increased toward the end of the Cretaceous. In addition to large snakes having been found fossilized in the act of foraging in dinosaur nests, mammals and birds had also evolved new forms potentially capable of exploiting this resource. The constraints on mammal size and niche diversity lessened prior to the K/Pg boundary. Using comparisons of predator/prey size ratios between extant species and known fossils, we demonstrate that mammalian and avian clades had members large enough to prey on dinosaur eggs and hatchlings. We argue that the reproductive strategy of obligatory nest defense was likely practiced by most non-avian dinosaur species. This strategy was highly susceptible to the increasing numbers of mammalian, avian, and reptilian predators, which rendered this strategy obsolete. Continued selection against large oviparous species in the Cenozoic has limited this life-history strategy to habitats that provide concealment – primarily grasslands, a habitat that did not exist until the Miocene. We urge the evaluation of multiple, perhaps synergistic, hypotheses when considering extinction events of this magnitude.