Welker, F., Collins, M. J., Thomas, J. A., Wadsley, M., Brace, S., Cappellini, E., Turvey, S. T., Reguero, M., Gelfo, J. N., Kramarz, A., Burger, J., Thomas-Oates, J., Ashford, D. A., Ashton, P. D., Rowsell, K., Porter, D. M., Kessler, B., Fischer, R., Baessmann, C., Kaspar, S., Olsen, J. V., Kiley, P., Elliott, J. A., Kelstrup, C. D., Mullin, V., Hofreiter, M., Willerslev, E., Hublin, J.-J., Orlando, L., Barnes, I. & MacPhee, R. D. E., 2015: Ancient proteins resolve the evolutionary history of Darwin/’s South American ungulates.
–Nature: in press [doi: 10.1038/nature14249]
No large group of recently extinct placental mammals remains as evolutionarily cryptic as the approximately 280 genera grouped as ‘South American native ungulates’. To Charles Darwin, who first collected their remains, they included perhaps the ‘strangest animal[s] ever discovered’. Today, much like 180 years ago, it is no clearer whether they had one origin or several, arose before or after the Cretaceous/Palaeogene transition 66.2 million years ago, or are more likely to belong with the elephants and sirenians of superorder Afrotheria than with the euungulates (cattle, horses, and allies) of superorder Laurasiatheria. Morphology-based analyses have proved unconvincing because convergences are pervasive among unrelated ungulate-like placentals. Approaches using ancient DNA have also been unsuccessful, probably because of rapid DNA degradation in semitropical and temperate deposits. Here we apply proteomic analysis to screen bone samples of the Late Quaternary South American native ungulate taxa Toxodon (Notoungulata) and Macrauchenia (Litopterna) for phylogenetically informative protein sequences. For each ungulate, we obtain approximately 90% direct sequence coverage of type I collagen α1- and α2-chains, representing approximately 900 of 1,140 amino-acid residues for each subunit. A phylogeny is estimated from an alignment of these fossil sequences with collagen (I) gene transcripts from available mammalian genomes or mass spectrometrically derived sequence data obtained for this study. The resulting consensus tree agrees well with recent higher-level mammalian phylogenies. Toxodon and Macrauchenia form a monophyletic group whose sister taxon is not Afrotheria or any of its constituent clades as recently claimed, but instead crown Perissodactyla (horses, tapirs, and rhinoceroses). These results are consistent with the origin of at least some South American native ungulates from ‘condylarths’, a paraphyletic assembly of archaic placentals. With ongoing improvements in instrumentation and analytical procedures, proteomics may produce a revolution in systematics such as that achieved by genomics, but with the possibility of reaching much further back in time.
Zanno, L. E., Drymala, S., Nesbitt, S. J. & Schneider, V. P., 2015: Early crocodylomorph increases top tier predator diversity during rise of dinosaurs.
–Scientific Reports: Vol. 5, art.no. 9276 [doi: 10.1038/srep09276]
Triassic predatory guild evolution reflects a period of ecological flux spurred by the catastrophic end-Permian mass extinction and terminating with the global ecological dominance of dinosaurs in the early Jurassic. In responding to this dynamic ecospace, terrestrial predator diversity attained new levels, prompting unique trophic webs with a seeming overabundance of carnivorous taxa and the evolution of entirely new predatory clades. Key among these was Crocodylomorpha, the largest living reptiles and only one of two archosaurian lineages that survive to the present day. In contrast to their existing role as top, semi-aquatic predators, the earliest crocodylomorphs were generally small-bodied, terrestrial faunivores, occupying subsidiary (meso) predator roles. Here we describe Carnufex carolinensis a new, unexpectedly large-bodied taxon with a slender and ornamented skull from the Carnian Pekin Formation (~231 Ma), representing one of the oldest and earliest diverging crocodylomorphs described to date. Carnufex bridges a problematic gap in the early evolution of pseudosuchians by spanning key transitions in bauplan evolution and body mass near the origin of Crocodylomorpha. With a skull length of >50 cm, the new taxon documents a rare instance of crocodylomorphs ascending to top-tier predator guilds in the equatorial regions of Pangea prior to the dominance of dinosaurs.
Van Roy, P., Daley, A. C. & Briggs, D. E. G., 2015: Anomalocaridid trunk limb homology revealed by a giant filter-feeder with paired flaps.
–Nature: in press [doi: 10.1038/nature14256]
Exceptionally preserved fossils from the Palaeozoic era provide crucial insights into arthropod evolution, with recent discoveries bringing phylogeny and character homology into sharp focus. Integral to such studies are anomalocaridids, a clade of stem arthropods whose remarkable morphology illuminates early arthropod relationships and Cambrian ecology. Although recent work has focused on the anomalocaridid head, the nature of their trunk has been debated widely. Here we describe new anomalocaridid specimens from the Early Ordovician Fezouata Biota of Morocco19, which not only show well-preserved head appendages providing key ecological data, but also elucidate the nature of anomalocaridid trunk flaps, resolving their homology with arthropod trunk limbs. The new material shows that each trunk segment bears a separate dorsal and ventral pair of flaps, with a series of setal blades attached at the base of the dorsal flaps. Comparisons with other stem lineage arthropods indicate that anomalocaridid ventral flaps are homologous with lobopodous walking limbs and the endopod of the euarthropod biramous limb, whereas the dorsal flaps and associated setal blades are homologous with the flaps of gilled lobopodians (for example, Kerygmachela kierkegaardi, Pambdelurion whittingtoni) and exites of the ‘Cambrian biramous limb’. This evidence shows that anomalocaridids represent a stage before the fusion of exite and endopod into the ‘Cambrian biramous limb’, confirming their basal placement in the euarthropod stem, rather than in the arthropod crown or with cycloneuralian worms. Unlike other anomalocaridids, the Fezouata taxon combines head appendages convergently adapted for filter-feeding with an unprecedented body length exceeding 2 m, indicating a new direction in the feeding ecology of the clade. The evolution of giant filter-feeding anomalocaridids may reflect the establishment of highly developed planktic ecosystems during the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event.