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PLOS ONE  2014 

The Lilliput Effect in Colonial Organisms: Cheilostome Bryozoans at the Cretaceous–Paleogene Mass Extinction

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0087048

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Consistent trends towards decreasing body size in the aftermath of mass extinctions – Lilliput effects – imply a predictable response among unitary animals to these events. The occurrence of Lilliput effects has yet to be widely tested in colonial organisms, which are of particular interest as size change may potentially occur at the two hierarchical levels of the colony and the individual zooids. Bryozoans are particularly useful organisms in which to study colonial size response as they have well-defined zooids. Additionally, a number of analyses of present-day bryozoans have shown that zooid size reflects local environmental conditions, most notably seawater temperature and possibly also food supply. Following the hypothesised decline in primary productivity at the Cretaceous–Paleogene (K–Pg) mass extinction, it is predicted that bryozoan zooid size should decline in the early Paleogene, resulting in a Lilliput effect. To test this prediction, zooid size was compared across the K–Pg boundary at the assemblage level and also within 4 surviving genera. Analysis of 59 bryozoan species from assemblages on either side of the K–Pg boundary showed no significant change in zooid length. Zooid size was also measured in 98 Maastrichtian colonies and 162 Danian colonies belonging to four congeneric species. Only one of these genera showed a significant size decrease across the K–Pg boundary, the other three maintaining constant zooidal lengths, widths and areas. Additionally, the sizes of 210 Maastrichtian colonies and 163 Danian colonies did not show consistent size decrease across the K–Pg boundary in these same species, although maximum colony size did decline in three out of four genera. Furthermore, this lack of consistent size change is uniform between two distinct biogeographical regions, Denmark and the southeastern USA.


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