New Cretaceous marsupial from Mongolia and the early radiation of Metatheria

B A Trofimov, F S Szalay
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 1994 December 20, 91 (26): 12569-73
A marsupial mammal from Mongolia representing a previously unreported group, Asiadelphia, offers unequivocal evidence that metatherians were represented on the continent of Asia during the Late Cretaceous (Campanian), even in the northern arid interior. Asiatherium is known by skull, left and right mandibles, and most of its postcranial skeleton. Comparisons of the dentition, ear region, and aspects of the postcranium not only allow its diagnosis as an Asian group of metatherians but also permit a diagnosis of the Metatheria based on the unequivocally apomorphous condition of the dental formula and probable replacement pattern of the protometatherian, in contrast to the more primitive therian dental formula, represented by the few known Aegialodontidae and the first dental eutherians. It appears an inescapable conclusion that the first metatherians had a more derived dental formula (and probably replacement pattern) than the earliest dental eutherians, regardless of what specific derivation from a therian ancestry is contemplated. Such a diagnosis also supports the metatherian status of other Cretaceous Asian and American taxa such as the Deltatheroida and Kokopellia. The hypothesis that Metatheria originated in North America is largely dependent on the preponderance of Cretaceous forms from North America and negative evidence from Asia (i.e., on the lack of lower latitude Early Cretaceous tropical faunas). Conversely, the relative Cretaceous paucity of placentals from North America and their greater abundance in Asia suggests the earliest flowering of the Eutheria in an unspecified region of the Old World. The concept of a holophyletic Theria (= Tribosphenida) employed here, based on the biologically significant apomorphy of the molar form-function of the first therian, entails only the tribosphenic mammals (infraclasses Tribotheria, Metatheria, and Eutheria) but not the sundry quasi-triangular-toothed mammals and their derivatives in the Mesozoic (Eupantotheria, Peramura, Monotremata, etc.). It is suggested that the Asiadelphia and Deltatheroida, the protospecies of both, with the apomorphic therian dental formula, are ancient lineages of Metatheria independent from their North American relatives probably since the early part of the Late Cretaceous.

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