Why Were Dicynodonts so Successful Before and After the End-Permian Extinction?

Botha-Brink, J., and K. Angielczyk. 2010. Do extraordinarily high growth rates in Permo-Triassic dicynodonts (Therapsida, Anomodontia) explain their success before and after the end-Permian extinction? Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, early online, doi: 10.1111/j.1096-3642.2009.00601.x

Abstract - Dicynodonts were the most diverse and abundant herbivorous therapsids of the Permo-Triassic. They include Lystrosaurus, one of the few taxa known to survive the end-Permian extinction and the most abundant tetrapod during the Early Triassic postextinction recovery. Explanations for the success of Lystrosaurus and other dicynodonts remain controversial. This study presents an assessment of dicynodont growth patterns using bone histology, with special focus on taxa associated with the end-Permian extinction event. Bone histological analysis reveals a high cortical thickness throughout the clade, perhaps reflecting a phylogenetic constraint. Growth rings are absent early in ontogeny, and combined with high vascular density, indicate rapid, sustained growth up to the subadult stage. Extraordinarily enlarged vascular channels are present in the midcortex of many dicynodonts, including adults, and may have facilitated a more efficient assimilation of nutrients and rapid bone growth compared to other therapsids. Both increased channel density and enlarged vascular channels evolved at or near the base of major radiations of dicynodonts, implying that the changes in growth and life history they represent may have been key to the success of dicynodonts. Furthermore, this exceptionally rapid growth to adulthood may have contributed to the survival of Lystrosaurus during the end-Permian extinction and its dominance during the postextinction recovery period.

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