During the Mesozoic (242–66 million years ago), terrestrial regions underwent a massive shift in their size, position and connectivity. At the beginning of the era, the land masses were joined into a single supercontinent called Pangaea. However, by the end of the Mesozoic, terrestrial regions had become highly fragmented, both owing to the drifting apart of the continental plates and the extremely high sea levels that flooded and divided many regions. How terrestrial biodiversity was affected by this fragmentation and large-scale flooding of the Earth's landmasses is uncertain. Based on a model using the species–area relationship (SAR), terrestrial vertebrate biodiversity would be expected to nearly double through the Mesozoic owing to continental fragmentation, despite a decrease of 24% in total terrestrial area. Previous studies of Mesozoic vertebrates have generally found increases in terrestrial diversity towards the end of the era, although these increases are often attributed to intrinsic or climatic factors. Instead, continental fragmentation over this time may largely explain any observed increase in terrestrial biodiversity. This study demonstrates the importance that non-intrinsic effects can have on the taxonomic success of a group, and the importance of geography to understanding past biodiversity.
Electronic supplementary material is available online at https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3464568.
- Received June 20, 2016.
- Accepted September 1, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.