Increase in predator-prey size ratios throughout the Phanerozoic history of marine ecosystems

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Abstract

The escalation hypothesis posits that predation by increasingly powerful and metabolically active carnivores has been a major driver of metazoan evolution. We test a key tenet of this hypothesis by analyzing predatory drill holes in fossil marine shells, which provide a ~500-million-year record of individual predator-prey interactions. We show that drill-hole size is a robust predictor of body size among modern drilling predators and that drill-hole size (and thus inferred predator size and power) rose substantially from the Ordovician to the Quaternary period, whereas the size of drilled prey remained stable. Together, these trends indicate a directional increase in predator-prey size ratios. We hypothesize that increasing predator-prey size ratios reflect increases in prey abundance, prey nutrient content, and predation among predators.

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