A memory already like an elephant's? The advanced brain morphology of the last common ancestor of Afrotheria (Mammalia)

Julien Benoit, Nick Crumpton, Samuel MĂ©rigeaud, Rodolphe Tabuce
Brain, Behavior and Evolution 2013, 81 (3): 154-69
Virtually reconstructed and natural endocranial casts are used in the study of brain evolution through geological time. We here present work investigating the paleoneurological evolution of afrotherian mammals. Using microCT-generated endocasts we show that, with the exception of the subfamilies Macroscelidinae and Tenrecoidea, most Afroinsectiphilia display a more or less gyrencephalic and ventrally expanded neopallium, two derived features that are unexpected for these insectivore-grade afrotherians. This implies that the endocranial cast morphology at the root of the afrotherian clade may have been more advanced than previously thought. The reconstructed endocranial morphology of the Afrotheria's last common ancestor reaches the level of complexity of some early Cenozoic archaic ungulates. Our result gives support to the hypothesis of an ungulate-like ancestral body plan for Afrotheria. It also implies that the a priori 'primitive' suite of traits evident in the brain of Afroinsectivora, especially in the tenrecs, may have been secondarily acquired. Implications on the overestimation of the divergence age of Afrotheria are discussed.


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