, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 279-290
Date: 22 Dec 2012

Why are There Fewer Marsupials than Placentals? On the Relevance of Geography and Physiology to Evolutionary Patterns of Mammalian Diversity and Disparity

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Abstract

Placental mammals occupy a larger morphospace and are taxonomically more diverse than marsupials by an order of magnitude, as shown by quantitative and phylogenetic studies of several character complexes and clades. Many have suggested that life history acts as a constraint on the evolution of marsupial morphology. However, the frequent circumvention of constraints suggests that the pattern of morphospace occupation in marsupials is more a reflection of lack of ecological opportunity than one of biases in the production of variants during development. Features of marsupial physiology are a potential source of biases in the evolution of the group; these could be coupled with past macroevolutionary patterns that followed conditions imposed by global temperature changes. This is evident at the K/Pg boundary and at the Eocene/Oligocene boundary. The geographic pattern of taxonomic and morphological diversity in placental clades mirrors that of extant placentals as a whole versus marsupials: placentals of northern origin are more diverse those of southern one and include the clades that are outliers in taxonomic (rodents and bats) and ecomorphological (whales and bats) richness.