Ryosuke Motani, Da-yong Jiang, Andrea Tintori, Cheng Ji & Jian-dong Huang (2017)
Pre- versus post-mass extinction divergence of Mesozoic marine reptiles dictated by time-scale dependence of evolutionary rates.
Proceedings of the Royal Society B 2017 284 20170241
The fossil record of a major clade often starts after a mass extinction even though evolutionary rates, molecular or morphological, suggest its pre-extinction emergence (e.g. squamates, placentals and teleosts). The discrepancy is larger for older clades, and the presence of a time-scale-dependent methodological bias has been suggested, yet it has been difficult to avoid the bias using Bayesian phylogenetic methods. This paradox raises the question of whether ecological vacancies, such as those after mass extinctions, prompt the radiations. We addressed this problem by using a unique temporal characteristic of the morphological data and a high-resolution stratigraphic record, for the oldest clade of Mesozoic marine reptiles, Ichthyosauromorpha. The evolutionary rate was fastest during the first few million years of ichthyosauromorph evolution and became progressively slower over time, eventually becoming six times slower. Using the later slower rates, estimates of divergence time become excessively older. The fast, initial rate suggests the emergence of ichthyosauromorphs after the end-Permian mass extinction, matching an independent result from high-resolution stratigraphic confidence intervals. These reptiles probably invaded the sea as a new ecosystem was formed after the end-Permian mass extinction. Lack of information on early evolution biased Bayesian clock rates.