The Royal Society

Supplementary material from "Quaternary megafauna extinctions altered body size distribution in tortoises"

Posted on 2022-11-24 - 06:32
The late Quaternary is characterized by the extinction of many terrestrial megafauna, which included tortoises (Family: Testudinidae). However, limited information is available on how extinction shaped the phenotype of surviving taxa. Here, based on a global dataset of carapace length, we investigate the temporal variation, spatial distribution and evolution of tortoise body size over the past 23 million years, thereby capturing the effects of Quaternary extinctions in this clade. We found a significant change in body size distribution characterized by a reduction of both mean body size and maximum body size of extant tortoises relative to fossil taxa. This reduction of body size occurred earlier in mainland (Early Pleistocene 2.588–0.781 Ma) than in island tortoises (Late Pleistocene/Holocene 0.126–0 Ma). Despite contrasting body size patterns between fossil and extant taxa on a spatial scale, tortoise body size showed limited variation over time until this decline. Body size is a fundamental functional trait determining many aspects of species ecologies, with large tortoises playing key roles as ecosystem engineers. As such, the transition from larger sized to smaller sized classes indicated by our findings likely resulted in the homogenization of tortoises' ecological functions and diminished the role of tortoises in structuring the vegetation community.


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