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Article: High-precision body mass predictors for small mammals: a case study in the Mesozoic

Palaeontology - Vol. 67 - Cover Image all volumes
Publication: Palaeontology
Volume: 67
Part: 2
Publication Date: 2024
Article number: e12692
Author(s): E.J. Huang, Jacob D. Wilson, Bhart-Anjan S. Bhullar, and Gabriel S. Bever
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How to Cite

HUANG, E., WILSON, J.D., BHULLAR, B.A.S., BEVER, G.S. 2024. High-precision body mass predictors for small mammals: a case study in the Mesozoic. Palaeontology, 67, 2, e12692. DOI:

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Abstract Body mass is a pivotal quantity in palaeobiology but must be inferred from an imperfect fossil record. We analyse the performance of regression models derived from various dentoskeletal predictors in mammals to inform fossils from the early, Mesozoic history of this radiation. Our focus is on the critical small end of the size spectrum; critical because the earliest mammals were small, because small size persisted onto the stems of the major extant radiations, and because small mammals compose a large proportion of crown diversity. The sampling strategy is diverse in terms of both phylogeny and skeletal predictors: the former allows a general application, while the latter enables comparison of various models. Linear regressions based on extant small mammals indicate a universal correlation of body mass with observed measurements, but with clear differences in precision. Postcranial predictors outperform jaw and dental metrics, with certain femoral joint dimensions providing surprisingly precise predictions. Our results indicate complex patterns of size evolution within the small-bodied category, including the possibility that multiple Mesozoic species approached the theoretical lower limit of mammalian body size. The ability to study such dynamics only becomes possible when predicting body mass within a strict, highly focused phylogenetic context. The heuristic value of the models we provide here is not limited to the Mesozoic but is applicable to small-bodied mammals of any geologic age.
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