JOURNAL ARTICLE

Evidence for a grooming claw in a North American adapiform primate: implications for anthropoid origins

Stephanie Maiolino, Doug M Boyer, Jonathan I Bloch, Christopher C Gilbert, Joseph Groenke
PloS One 2012, 7 (1): e29135
22253707
Among fossil primates, the Eocene adapiforms have been suggested as the closest relatives of living anthropoids (monkeys, apes, and humans). Central to this argument is the form of the second pedal digit. Extant strepsirrhines and tarsiers possess a grooming claw on this digit, while most anthropoids have a nail. While controversial, the possible presence of a nail in certain European adapiforms has been considered evidence for anthropoid affinities. Skeletons preserved well enough to test this idea have been lacking for North American adapiforms. Here, we document and quantitatively analyze, for the first time, a dentally associated skeleton of Notharctus tenebrosus from the early Eocene of Wyoming that preserves the complete bones of digit II in semi-articulation. Utilizing twelve shape variables, we compare the distal phalanges of Notharctus tenebrosus to those of extant primates that bear nails (n = 21), tegulae (n = 4), and grooming claws (n = 10), and those of non-primates that bear claws (n = 7). Quantitative analyses demonstrate that Notharctus tenebrosus possessed a grooming claw with a surprisingly well-developed apical tuft on its second pedal digit. The presence of a wide apical tuft on the pedal digit II of Notharctus tenebrosus may reflect intermediate morphology between a typical grooming claw and a nail, which is consistent with the recent hypothesis that loss of a grooming claw occurred in a clade containing adapiforms (e.g. Darwinius masillae) and anthropoids. However, a cladistic analysis including newly documented morphologies and thorough representation of characters acknowledged to have states constituting strepsirrhine, haplorhine, and anthropoid synapomorphies groups Notharctus tenebrosus and Darwinius masillae with extant strepsirrhines rather than haplorhines suggesting that the form of pedal digit II reflects substantial homoplasy during the course of early primate evolution.

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