The evolution of foraging capacity and gigantism in cetaceans

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    J A Goldbogen, Department of Biology, Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University, 120 Ocean View Boulevard, Pacific Grove, CA 93950, USA,
  • P T Madsen

The extant diversity and rich fossil record of cetaceans provides an extraordinary evolutionary context for investigating the relationship between form, function and ecology. The transition from terrestrial to marine ecosystems is associated with a complex suite of morphological and physiological adaptations that were required for a fully aquatic mammalian life history. Two specific functional innovations that characterize the two great clades of cetaceans, echolocation in toothed whales (Odontoceti) and filter feeding in baleen whales (Mysticeti), provide a powerful comparative framework for integrative studies. Both clades exhibit gigantism in multiple species, but we posit that large body size may have evolved for different reasons and in response to different ecosystem conditions. Although these foraging adaptations have been studied using a combination of experimental and tagging studies, the precise functional drivers and consequences of morphological change within and among these lineages remain less understood. Future studies that focus at the interface of physiology, ecology and paleontology will help elucidate how cetaceans became the largest predators in aquatic ecosystems worldwide.

Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Journal of Experimental Biology
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jun 2018

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