Decoupling speciation and extinction reveals both abiotic and biotic drivers shaped 250 million years of diversity in crocodile-line archosaurs

Alexander R.D. Payne, Philip D. Mannion, Graeme T. Lloyd, Katie E. Davis*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Whereas living representatives of Pseudosuchia, crocodylians, number fewer than 30 species, more than 700 pseudosuchian species are known from their 250-million-year fossil record, displaying far greater ecomorphological diversity than their extant counterparts. With a new time-calibrated tree of >500 species, we use a phylogenetic framework to reveal that pseudosuchian evolutionary history and diversification dynamics were directly shaped by the interplay of abiotic and biotic processes over hundreds of millions of years, supported by information theory analyses. Speciation, but not extinction, is correlated with higher temperatures in terrestrial and marine lineages, with high sea level associated with heightened extinction in non-marine taxa. Low lineage diversity and increased speciation in non-marine species is consistent with opportunities for niche-filling, whereas increased competition may have led to elevated extinction rates. In marine lineages, competition via increased lineage diversity appears to have driven both speciation and extinction. Decoupling speciation and extinction, in combination with ecological partitioning, reveals a more complex picture of pseudosuchian evolution than previously understood. As the number of species threatened with extinction by anthropogenic climate change continues to rise, the fossil record provides a unique window into the drivers that led to clade success and those that may ultimately lead to extinction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-132
Number of pages12
JournalNature Ecology and Evolution
Issue number1
Early online date4 Dec 2023
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2024

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the Palaeontological Association for an Undergraduate Research Bursary awarded to K.E.D. (Principal Investigator) and A.R.D.P. (grant number PA-UB201903). P.D.M.’s contribution was supported by grants from The Royal Society (UF160216, RGF\R1\180020, RGF\EA\201037, URF_R_221010) and The Leverhulme Trust (RPG-2021-202). Finally, we thank M. Sadde for finding an error in our initial phylogeny plotting code. This is Paleobiology Database official publication number 460.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s).

Cite this