Craniodental morphology and systematics of a new family of hystricognathous rodents (Gaudeamuridae) from the late eocene and early oligocene of Egypt

Hesham M Sallam, Erik R Seiffert, Elwyn L Simons
PloS One 2011, 6 (2): e16525

BACKGROUND: Gaudeamus is an enigmatic hystricognathous rodent that was, until recently, known solely from fragmentary material from early Oligocene sites in Egypt, Oman, and Libya. Gaudeamus' molars are similar to those of the extant cane rat Thryonomys, and multiple authorities have aligned Gaudeamus with Thryonomys to the exclusion of other living and extinct African hystricognaths; recent phylogenetic analyses have, however, also suggested affinities with South American caviomorphs or Old World porcupines (Hystricidae).

METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: Here we describe the oldest known remains of Gaudeamus, including largely complete but crushed crania and complete upper and lower dentitions. Unlike younger Gaudeamus species, the primitive species described here have relatively complex occlusal patterns, and retain a number of plesiomorphic features. Unconstrained parsimony analysis nests Gaudeamus and Hystrix within the South American caviomorph radiation, implying what we consider to be an implausible back-dispersal across the Atlantic Ocean to account for Gaudeamus' presence in the late Eocene of Africa. An analysis that was constrained to recover the biogeographically more plausible hypothesis of caviomorph monophyly does not place Gaudeamus as a stem caviomorph, but rather as a sister taxon of hystricids.

CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: We place Gaudeamus species in a new family, Gaudeamuridae, and consider it likely that the group originated, diversified, and then went extinct over a geologically brief period of time during the latest Eocene and early Oligocene in Afro-Arabia. Gaudeamurids are the only known crown hystricognaths from Afro-Arabia that are likely to be aligned with non-phiomorph members of that clade, and as such provide additional support for an Afro-Arabian origin of advanced stem and basal crown members of Hystricognathi.

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