Paleontology Collected Works
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ItemEarly cave art and ancient DNA record the origin of European bison(Nature Publishing Group, 2016-10-18)The two living species of bison (European and American) are among the few terrestrial megafauna to have survived the late Pleistocene extinctions. Despite the extensive bovid fossil record in Eurasia, the evolutionary history of the European bison (or wisent, Bison bonasus) before the Holocene (<11.7 thousand years ago (kya)) remains a mystery. We use complete ancient mitochondrial genomes and genome-wide nuclear DNA surveys to reveal that the wisent is the product of hybridization between the extinct steppe bison (Bison priscus) and ancestors of modern cattle (aurochs, Bos primigenius) before 120 kya, and contains up to 10% aurochs genomic ancestry. Although undetected within the fossil record, ancestors of the wisent have alternated ecological dominance with steppe bison in association with major environmental shifts since at least 55 kya. Early cave artists recorded distinct morphological forms consistent with these replacement events, around the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM, ∼21–18 kya).
ItemThe cranial endocast of Dipnorhynchus sussmilchi (Sarcopterygii: Dipnoi) and the interrelationships of stem-group lungfishes(PeerJ, 2016-10-20)The first virtual cranial endocast of a lungfish from the Early Devonian, Dipnorhynchus sussmilchi, is described. Dipnorhynchus, only the fourth Devonian lungfish for which a near complete cranial endocast is known, is a key taxon for clarifying primitive character states within the group. A ventrally-expanded telencephalic cavity is present in the endocast of Dipnorhynchus demonstrating that this is the primitive state for "true'' Dipnoi. Dipnorhynchus also possesses a utricular recess differentiated from the sacculolagenar pouch like that seen in stratigraphically younger lungfish (Dipterus, Chirodipterus, Rhinodipterus), but absent from the dipnomorph Youngolepis. We do not find separate pineal and para-pineal canals in contrast to a reconstruction from previous authors. We conduct the first phylogenetic analysis of Dipnoi based purely on endocast characters, which supports a basal placement of Dipnorhynchus within the dipnoan stem group, in agreement with recent analyses. Our analysis demonstrates the value of endocast characters for inferring phylogenetic relationships.
ItemEarly Gnathostome Phylogeny Revisited: Multiple Method Consensus(Public Library of Science, 2016)A series of recent studies recovered consistent phylogenetic scenarios of jawed vertebrates, such as the paraphyly of placoderms with respect to crown gnathostomes, and antiarchs as the sister group of all other jawed vertebrates. However, some of the hylogenetic relationships within the group have remained controversial, such as the positions of Entelognathus, ptyctodontids, and the Guiyu-lineage that comprises Guiyu, Psarolepis and Achoania. The revision of the dataset in a recent study reveals a modified phylogenetic hypothesis, which shows that some of these phylogenetic conflicts were sourced from a few inadvertent miscodings. The interrelationships of early gnathostomes are addressed based on a combined new dataset with 103 taxa and 335 characters, which is the most comprehensive morphological dataset constructed to date. This dataset is investigated in a phylogenetic context using maximum parsimony (MP), Bayesian inference (BI) and maximum likelihood (ML) approaches in an attempt to explore the consensus and incongruence between the hypotheses of early gnathostome interrelationships recovered from different methods. Our findings consistently corroborate the paraphyly of placoderms, all `acanthodians' as a paraphyletic stem group of chondrichthyans, Entelognathus as a stem gnathostome, and the Guiyu-lineage as stem sarcopterygians. The incongruence using different methods is less significant than the consensus, and mainly relates to the positions of the placoderm Wuttagoonaspis, the stem chondrichthyan Ramirosuarezia, and the stem osteichthyan LophosteusÐthe taxa that are either poorly known or highly specialized in character complement. Given that the different performances of each phylogenetic approach, our study provides an empirical case that the multiple phylogenetic analyses of morphological data are mutually complementary rather than redundant.
ItemA new method for reconstructing brain morphology: applying the brain-neurocranial spatial relationship in an extant lungfish to a fossil endocast(The Royal Society, 2016)Lungfish first appeared in the geological record over 410 million years ago and are the closest living group of fish to the tetrapods. Palaeoneurological investigations into the group show that unlike numerous other fishes—but more similar to those in tetrapods—lungfish appear to have had a close fit between the brain and the cranial cavity that housed it. As such, researchers can use the endocast of fossil taxa (an internal cast of the cranial cavity) both as a source of morphological data but also to aid in developing functional and phylogenetic implications about the group. Using fossil endocast data from a three-dimensional-preserved Late Devonian lungfish from the Gogo Formation, Rhinodipterus, and the brain-neurocranial relationship in the extant Australian lungfish, Neoceratodus, we herein present the first virtually reconstructed brain of a fossil lungfish. Computed tomographic data and a newly developed ‘brain-warping’ method are used in conjunction with our own distance map software tool to both analyse and present the data. The brain reconstruction is adequate, but we envisage that its accuracy and wider application in other taxonomic groups will grow with increasing availability of tomographic datasets.
ItemClimate change not to blame for late Quaternary megafauna extinctions in Australia(Nature Publishing Group, 2016)Late Quaternary megafauna extinctions impoverished mammalian diversity worldwide. The causes of these extinctions in Australia are most controversial but essential to resolve, because this continent-wide event presaged similar losses that occurred thousands of years later on other continents. Here we apply a rigorous metadata analysis and new ensemble-hindcasting approach to 659 Australian megafauna fossil ages. When coupled with analysis of several high-resolution climate records, we show that megafaunal extinctions were broadly synchronous among genera and independent of climate aridity and variability in Australia over the last 120,000 years. Our results reject climate change as the primary driver of megafauna extinctions in the world’s most controversial context, and instead estimate that the megafauna disappeared Australia-wide ~13,500 years after human arrival, with shorter periods of coexistence in some regions. This is the first comprehensive approach to incorporate uncertainty in fossil ages, extinction timing and climatology, to quantify mechanisms of prehistorical extinctions.
ItemBehaviour of the Pleistocene marsupial lion deduced from claw marks in a southwestern Australian cave(Nature Publishing Group, 2016)The marsupial lion, Thylacoleo carnifex, was the largest-ever marsupial carnivore, and is one of the most iconic extinct Australian vertebrates. With a highly-specialised dentition, powerful forelimbs and a robust build, its overall morphology is not approached by any other mammal. However, despite >150 years of attention, fundamental aspects of its biology remain unresolved. Here we analyse an assemblage of claw marks preserved on surfaces in a cave and deduce that they were generated by marsupial lions. The distribution and skewed size range of claw marks within the cave elucidate two key aspects of marsupial lion biology: they were excellent climbers and reared young in caves. Scrutiny of >10,000 co-located Pleistocene bones reveals few if any marsupial lion tooth marks, which dovetails with the morphology-based interpretation of the species as a flesh specialist.
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