Early Tertiary mammals from North Africa reinforce the molecular Afrotheria clade

Rodolphe Tabuce, Laurent Marivaux, Mohammed Adaci, Mustapha Bensalah, Jean-Louis Hartenberger, Mohammed Mahboubi, Fateh Mebrouk, Paul Tafforeau, Jean-Jacques Jaeger
Proceedings. Biological Sciences 2007 May 7, 274 (1614): 1159-66
The phylogenetic pattern and timing of the radiation of mammals, especially the geographical origins of major crown clades, are areas of controversy among molecular biologists, morphologists and palaeontologists. Molecular phylogeneticists have identified an Afrotheria clade, which includes several taxa as different as tenrecs (Tenrecidae), golden moles (Chrysochloridae), elephant-shrews (Macroscelididae), aardvarks (Tubulidentata) and paenungulates (elephants, sea cows and hyracoids). Molecular data also suggest a Cretaceous African origin for Afrotheria within Placentalia followed by a long period of endemic evolution on the Afro-Arabian continent after the mid-Cretaceous Gondwanan breakup (approx. 105-25 Myr ago). However, there was no morphological support for such a natural grouping so far. Here, we report new dental and postcranial evidence of Eocene stem hyrax and macroscelidid from North Africa that, for the first time, provides a congruent phylogenetic view with the molecular Afrotheria clade. These new fossils imply, however, substantial changes regarding the historical biogeography of afrotheres. Their long period of isolation in Africa, as assumed by molecular inferences, is now to be reconsidered inasmuch as Eocene paenungulates and elephant-shrews are here found to be related to some Early Tertiary Euramerican 'hyopsodontid condylarths' (archaic hoofed mammals). As a result, stem members of afrotherian clades are not strictly African but also include some Early Paleogene Holarctic mammals.


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