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Discerning the diets of sweep-feeding eurypterids: assessing the importance of prey size to survivorship across the Late Devonian mass extinction in a phylogenetic context

  • Emily S. Hughes (a1) and James C. Lamsdell (a1)

Abstract

Eurypterids are generally considered to comprise a mixture of active nektonic to nektobenthic predators and benthic scavenger-predators exhibiting a mode of life similar to modern horseshoe crabs. However, two groups of benthic stylonurine eurypterids, the Stylonuroidea and Mycteropoidea, independently evolved modifications to the armature of their anterior appendages that have been considered adaptations toward a sweep-feeding life habit, and it has been suggested the evolution toward sweep-feeding may have permitted stylonurines to capture smaller prey species and may have been critical for the survival of mycteropoids during the Late Devonian mass extinction. There is a linear correlation between the average spacing of feeding structures and prey sizes among extant suspension feeders. Here, we extrapolate this relationship to sweep-feeding eurypterids in order to estimate the range of prey sizes that they could capture and examine prey size in a phylogenetic context to determine what role prey size played in determining survivorship during the Late Devonian. The mycteropoid Cyrtoctenus was the most specialized sweep-feeder, with comblike appendage armature capable of capturing mesoplankton out of suspension, while the majority of stylonurines possess armature corresponding to a prey size range of 1.6–52 mm, suggesting they were suited for capturing small benthic macroinvertebrates such as crustaceans, mollusks, and wormlike organisms. There is no clear phylogenetic signal to prey size distribution and no evolutionary trend toward decreasing prey sizes among Stylonurina. Rather than prey size, species survivorship during the Late Devonian was likely mediated by geographic distribution and ability to capitalize on the expanding freshwater benthos.

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Discerning the diets of sweep-feeding eurypterids: assessing the importance of prey size to survivorship across the Late Devonian mass extinction in a phylogenetic context

  • Emily S. Hughes (a1) and James C. Lamsdell (a1)

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