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SDR Deposit of the Month: Crocodile Constraints

Lots of interesting research is deposited into the Stanford Digital Repository every month, but when the research is about crocodiles, you know we have to know more!

While there are at least 26 species of crocodiles around today, many more forms of crocodiles have existed over the past 250 million years. Extinct crocodiles include those that were both much larger and much smaller than those living today.

William Gearty, a former PhD student in geological sciences at Stanford's School of Earth Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth), started his dissertation work with marine mammals and the physiological challenges they faced when they invaded the oceans. "Crocodiles have a fairly substantial fossil record, and, probably unknown to most, many ancient crocodiles were fully marine, with flippers just like those of dolphins!" said William. Crocodiles seemed to him like the "logical next step to see how broadly these physiological challenges applied" to other animals.

William was interested in understanding the evolution of body sizes for this group of animals. He and his colleagues compiled a database of body sizes for 264 fossil and modern species of crocodyliform covering terrestrial, semi-aquatic, and marine habitats. They determined that habitat imposes physiological constraints on the animals and that these constraints are much more important than constraints that are imposed by competition with other organisms or climate change. Animals that are very small lose heat too quickly when diving in the water for food, while the upper limit on size is due to the balance of metabolic rate and the rate of food intake. This research was recently published in Evolution.

Read the rest of this story on the Data Stories page.