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The winners of mass extinction: With predators gone, prey thrives
Date:5/3/2011

of dominance had left the crinoids especially vulnerable to a new predator strategy. In the Devonian era, crinoids evolved hard armored shells to defend against fish with sharp "shearing" teeth. But when fish populations returned in force 15 million years after the Hangenberg event, those species used "crushing" teeth well suited for thwarting crinoid defenses.

The persistence of a once-beneficial trait that becomes obsolete should be called a "legacy adaptation," the authors propose. In the absence of a predator-prey arms race, a species' inherited defenses may become outdated, Sallan said.

"There's a complete absence of predation pressure and the crinoids take off, but they retain their defenses as if they can't get out of them," Sallan said. "When a new form of predator appears, they can go directly for the best solution to cracking a crinoid, which is crushing. The Devonian-era armor of crinoids isn't suited for defending against that attack, but they can't lose it without losing all of their residual defenses."


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Contact: Robert Mitchum
robert.mitchum@uchospitals.edu
773-795-5227
University of Chicago Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert  

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