Big cat, small cat: Reconstructing body size evolution in living and extinct Felidae

Cuff, A R and Randau, M and Head, J and Hutchinson, J R and Pierce, S E and Goswami, A (2015) Big cat, small cat: Reconstructing body size evolution in living and extinct Felidae. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 28 (8). pp. 1516-1525.

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Abstract

The evolution of body mass is a fundamental topic in evolutionary biology, because it is closely linked to manifold life history and ecological traits and is readily estimable for many extinct taxa. In this study, we examine patterns of body mass evolution in Felidae (Placentalia, Carnivora) to assess the effects of phylogeny, mode of evolution, and the relationship between body mass and prey choice in this charismatic mammalian clade. Our data set includes 39 extant and 26 extinct taxa, with published body mass data supplemented by estimates based on condylobasal length. These data were run through ‘SURFACE’ and ‘bayou’ to test for patterns of body mass evolution and convergence between taxa. Body masses of felids are significantly different among prey choice groupings (small, mixed and large). We find that body mass evolution in cats is strongly influenced by phylogeny, but different patterns emerged depending on inclusion of extinct taxa and assumptions about branch lengths. A single Ornstein–Uhlenbeck optimum best explains the distribution of body masses when first‐occurrence data were used for the fossil taxa. However, when mean occurrence dates or last known occurrence dates were used, two selective optima for felid body mass were recovered in most analyses: a small optimum around 5 kg and a large one around 100 kg. Across living and extinct cats, we infer repeated evolutionary convergences towards both of these optima, but, likely due to biased extinction of large taxa, our results shift to supporting a Brownian motion model when only extant taxa are included in analyses.