What is spatial niche partitioning?


Lyson, T.R., and Longrich, N.R. 2011. Spatial niche partitioning in dinosaurs from the latest Cretaceous (Maastrichtian) of North America. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, vol. 278, p. 1158-1164

What is niche partitioning? What specifically is spatial niche partitioning?

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The article above was written in 2011 by various authors regarding spatial niche partitioning from the latest cretaceous of North America. Niche Partitioning can be described as the process whereby natural selection drives species that are competing for the same resources to have different patterns or niches. Through differentiation of their realized ecological niches, coexistence is obtained. Spatial niche partitioning, on the other hand, is whereby two competing species utilize the same resources by occupying different areas within the range of occurrence of a given resource.

How did the authors go about trying to identify spatial niche partitioning in the Hell Creek dinosaurs? What evidence did they use?

The authors in this article went about to identify spatial niche partitioning in Hell Creek dinosaurs by comparing the relative abundance of the dinosaurs in sandstone and mudstone. The evidence used was based on the idea that ceratopsians occur in mudstone, whereas hadrosaurs occur in sandstone. The sandstone and mudstone lithologies usually indicate the environment of deposition whereby sandstone represents river environments, whereas finer-grained sediments indicate floodplain environments. When we consider the particular patterns, it is evident that spatial niche partitioning played a massive role in ensuring a healthy resource competition regarding the herbivorous dinosaurs.

What kind of fossil collection and fossil preservation biases could be a problem for this study? How did the authors try to get around them?

For this study, biases in fossil collection and fossil preservation are very many. One of the collection biases is the early collectors’ tendency to collect only the best-preserved material, which might be biased. Another bias is reworking on isolated fossils. Isolated bones are easily reworked, and isolated bones indicate they have traveled from the site of death where the skeleton is located. To avoid the biases, the authors only compiled information on associated dinosaur specimens with available lithological data. The associated specimen is reliable, considering it has not been reworked from one dispositional environment to another. Another reason to use the associated specimen is that post mortem transport becomes less as opposed to the isolated specimen, which has to be transported back to the site of death.

What did the study conclude about niche partitioning?

The study concludes that niche partitioning helped reduce competition for the available resources at the time between herbivorous dinosaurs.


What is the purpose of this paper? What is the basic question that the authors are trying to answer?

The purpose of this paper is to test the spatial separation of extinct vertebrates by analyzing the relationship between lithology and associated dinosaur specimens. The basic question the authors are trying to answer is whether the collections accumulated during the 1900s are biased towards a particular lithology.


How did they go about answering that question? What was their methodology?


The authors went about answering the question by obtaining data from 43 public institutions. For each associated specimen, they were able to record the elements preserved, the lithology, formation, and the date through which the specimen was collected and recorded.


What were the results of the study? What did we learn by reading the paper?


The first test, which included all the specimens, found out that there is a non-distribution of dinosaurs in regards to lithology. Hadrosaurs showed a strong association with sandstone by 15:1 ratio and Thescelosaurus by 8:1. In contrast, the ceratopsids were associated with mudstone by a ratio of 2;1.

By reading the paper, we can learn that there is a stable pattern of association when it comes to dinosaurs and the rock whereby they were buried. The ceratopsids occurred in mudstone, whereas Thescelosaurus and Hadrosaurs occurred in sandstone.


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