Evidence for a mid-Jurassic adaptive radiation in mammals

Roger A. Close, Matt Friedman, Graeme T. Lloyd, Roger B. J. Benson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Citations (Scopus)


A series of spectacular discoveries have transformed our understanding of Mesozoic mammals in recent years. These finds reveal hitherto-unsuspected ecomorphological diversity that suggests that mammals experienced a major adaptive radiation during the Middle to Late Jurassic [1]. Patterns of mammalian macroevolution must be reinterpreted in light of these new discoveries [1-3], but only taxonomic diversity and limited aspects of morphological disparity have been quantified [4, 5]. We assess rates of morphological evolution and temporal patterns of disparity using large datasets of discrete characters. Rates of morphological evolution were significantly elevated prior to the Late Jurassic, with a pronounced peak occurring during the Early to Middle Jurassic. This intense burst of phenotypic innovation coincided with a stepwise increase in apparent long-term standing diversity [4] and the attainment of maximum disparity, supporting a "short-fuse" model of early mammalian diversification [2, 3]. Rates then declined sharply, and remained significantly low until the end of the Mesozoic, even among therians. This supports the "long-fuse" model of diversification in Mesozoic therians. Our findings demonstrate that sustained morphological innovation in Triassic stem-group mammals culminated in a global adaptive radiation of crown-group members during the Early to Middle Jurassic.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2137-2142
Number of pages6
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number16
Publication statusPublished - 17 Aug 2015


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