A vigorous discussion surrounds the question as to what enables some mammals-including primates and cetaceans-to evolve large brains. We recently published a study suggesting that the radiation of marsupial mammals is highly relevant to this question because of the unique reproductive and metabolic traits within this clade. In particular, we controversially suggested that marsupial brain sizes are not systematically smaller than those of placentals, and that elevated basal metabolic rates (BMR) are not linked to larger marsupial brains. As our dataset was found to contain some erroneous body size data, derived from a published source, we here use an updated and corrected dataset and employ standard as well as phylogenetically corrected analyses to re-assess and elaborate on our original conclusions. Our proposal that marsupials are not systematically smaller-brained than placentals remains supported, particularly when the unusually large-brained placental clade, Primates, is excluded. Use of the new dataset not only confirms that high metabolic rates are not associated with larger brain size in marsupials, but we additionally find some support for a striking negative correlation between BMR and brain size. The best supported correlates of large brain size remain the reproductive traits of weaning age and litter size. These results support our suggestion that mammalian brain sizes (including, by inference, those of monotremes) are predominantly constrained by the ability of females to fuel the growth of their offspring's large brains, rather than by the maintenance requirements of the adult brain.
Extant sloths present an evolutionary conundrum in that the two living genera are superficially similar (small-bodied, folivorous, arboreal) but diverged from one another approximately 30 million years ago and are phylogenetically separated by a radiation of medium to massive, mainly ground-dwelling, taxa. Indeed, the species in the two living genera are among the smallest, and perhaps most unusual, of the 50+ known sloth species, and must have independently and convergently evolved small size and arboreality. In order to accurately reconstruct sloth evolution, it is critical to incorporate their extinct diversity in analyses. Here, we used a dataset of 57 species of living and fossil sloths to examine changes in body mass mean and variance through their evolution, employing a general time-variable model that allows for analysis of evolutionary trends in continuous characters within clades lacking fully-resolved phylogenies, such as sloths.
The forelimb forms a functional unit that allows a variety of behaviours and needs to be mobile, yet at the same time stable. Both mobility and stability are controlled, amongst others, at the level of the elbow joint. This joint is composed of the humero-ulnar articulation, mainly involved during parasagittal movements; and the radio-ulnar articulation, mainly allowing rotation. In contrast, the humero-radial articulation allows both movements of flexion-extension and rotation. Here, we study the morphological integration between each bone of the forelimb at the level of the entire arm, as well as at the elbow joint, in musteloid carnivorans. To do so, we quantitatively test shape co-variation using surface 3D geometric morphometric data. Our results show that morphological integration is stronger for bones that form functional units. Different results are obtained depending on the level of investigation: for the entire arm, results show a greater degree of shape co-variation between long bones of the lower arm than between the humerus and either bone of the lower arm. Thus, at this level the functional unit of the lower arm is comprised of the radius and ulna, permitting rotational movements of the lower arm. At the level of the elbow, results display a stronger shape co-variation between bones allowing flexion and stability (humerus and ulna) than between bones allowing mobility (ulna and radius and humerus and radius). Thus, the critical functional unit appears to be the articulation between the humerus and ulna providing the stability of the joint.
The pterosaurs, Mesozoic flying reptiles, attained wingspans of more than 10 m that greatly exceed the largest birds and challenge our understanding of size limits in flying animals. Pterosaurs have been used to illustrate Cope's rule, the influential generalization that evolutionary lineages trend to increasingly large body sizes. However, unambiguous examples of Cope's rule operating on extended timescales in large clades remain elusive, and the phylogenetic pattern and possible drivers of pterosaur gigantism are uncertain. Here we show 70 million years of highly constrained early evolution, followed by almost 80 million years of sustained, multi-lineage body size increases in pterosaurs. These results are supported by maximum-likelihood modelling of a comprehensive new pterosaur data set. The transition between these macroevolutionary regimes is coincident with the Early Cretaceous adaptive radiation of birds, supporting controversial hypotheses of bird-pterosaur competition, and suggesting that evolutionary competition can act as a macroevolutionary driver on extended geological timescales.
Reconstructing evolutionary patterns and their underlying processes is a central goal in biology. Yet many analyses of deep evolutionary histories assume that data from the fossil record is too incomplete to include, and rely solely on databases of extant taxa. Excluding fossil taxa assumes that character state distributions across living taxa are faithful representations of a clades entire evolutionary history. Many factors can make this assumption problematic. Fossil taxa do not simply lead-up to extant taxa; they represent now-extinct lineages that can substantially impact interpretations of character evolution for extant groups. Here, we analyze body mass data for extant and fossil canids (dogs, foxes, and relatives) for changes in mean and variance through time. AIC-based model selection recovered distinct models for each of eight canid subgroups. We compared model fit of parameter estimates for (1) extant data alone and (2) extant and fossil data, demonstrating that the latter performs significantly better. Moreover, extant-only analyses result in unrealistically low estimates of ancestral mass. Although fossil data are not always available, reconstructions of deep-time organismal evolution in the absence of deep-time data can be highly inaccurate, and we argue that every effort should be made to include fossil data in macroevolutionary studies.
Today, biodiversity decreases from equatorial to polar regions. This is a fundamental pattern governing the distribution of extant organisms, the understanding of which is critical to predicting climatically driven biodiversity loss. However, its causes remain unresolved. The fossil record offers a unique perspective on the evolution of this latitudinal biodiversity gradient (LBG), providing a dynamic system in which to explore spatiotemporal diversity fluctuations. Deep-time studies indicate that a tropical peak and poleward decline in species diversity has not been a persistent pattern throughout the Phanerozoic, but is restricted to intervals of the Palaeozoic and the past 30 million years. A tropical peak might characterise cold icehouse climatic regimes, whereas warmer greenhouse regimes display temperate diversity peaks or flattened gradients.
Much of the current research in the growing field of evolutionary development concerns relating developmental pathways to large-scale patterns of morphological evolution, with developmental constraints on variation, and hence diversity, a field of particular interest. Tooth morphology offers an excellent model system for such evo-devo studies, because teeth are well preserved in the fossil record, and are commonly used in phylogenetic analyses and as ecological proxies. Moreover, tooth development is relatively well studied, and has provided several testable hypotheses of developmental influences on macroevolutionary patterns. The recently-described Inhibitory Cascade (IC) Model provides just such a hypothesis for mammalian lower molar evolution. Derived from experimental data, the IC Model suggests that a balance between mesenchymal activators and molar-derived inhibitors determines the size of the immediately posterior molar, predicting firstly that molars either decrease in size along the tooth row, or increase in size, or are all of equal size, and secondly that the second lower molar should occupy one third of lower molar area. Here, we tested the IC Model in a large selection of taxa from diverse extant and fossil mammalian groups, ranging from the Middle Jurassic (~176 to 161 Ma) to the Recent.
Consensus on placental mammal phylogeny is fairly recent compared to that for vertebrates as a whole. A stable phylogenetic hypothesis enables investigation into the possibility that placental clades differ from one another in terms of their development. Here, we focus on the sequence of skeletal ossification as a possible source of developmental distinctiveness in "northern" (Laurasiatheria and Euarchontoglires) versus "southern" (Afrotheria and Xenarthra) placental clades. We contribute data on cranial and postcranial ossification events during growth in Afrotheria, including elephants, hyraxes, golden moles, tenrecs, sengis, and aardvarks. We use three different techniques to quantify sequence heterochrony: continuous method, sequence-ANOVA (analysis of variance) and event-paring/Parsimov. We show that afrotherians significantly differ from other placentals by an early ossification of the orbitosphenoid and caudal vertebrae. Our analysis also suggests that both southern placental groups show a greater degree of developmental variability; however, they rarely seem to vary in the same direction, especially regarding the shifts that differ statistically. The latter observation is inconsistent with the Atlantogenata hypothesis in which afrotherians are considered as the sister clade of xenarthrans. Interestingly, ancestral nodes for Laurasiatheria and Euarchontoglires show very similar trends and our results suggest that developmental homogeneity in some ossification sequences may be restricted to northern placental mammals (Boreoeutheria).
In contrast to placental neonates, in which all cranial bones are ossified, marsupial young have only the bones of the oral region and the exoccipital ossified at birth, in order to facilitate suckling at an early stage of development. In this study, we investigated whether this heterochronic shift in the timing of cranial ossification constrains cranial disparity in marsupials relative to placentals.
Pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, and walruses) underwent a shift in jaw function away from typical carnivoran mastication to more novel marine behaviors during the terrestrial-aquatic transition. Here we test the effect of aquatic prey capture and male-male combat on the morphological evolution of a mammal jaw that does not masticate. Nine three-dimensional landmarks were taken along the mandible for 25 species (N?=?83), and corpus and symphysis external and cortical breadths for a subset of five species (N?=?33). Principal components analysis was performed on size-corrected landmark data to assess variation in overall jaw morphology across pinnipeds. Corpus breadths were input to a beam model to calculate strength properties and estimated bite force of specific species with contrasting behaviors (filter feeding, suction feeding, grip-and-tear feeding, and male-male combat). Results indicate that, although phylogenetic signal in jaw shape is strong, function is also important in determining morphology. Filter feeders display an elongate symphysis and a long toothrow that may play a role in filtering krill. Grip-and-tear feeders have a long jaw and large estimated bite force relative to non-biting species. However, the largest estimated bite forces were observed in males of male-male combative species, likely due to the high selection pressure associated with male success in highly polygynous species. The suction feeding jaw is weak in biting but has a different morphology in the two suction feeding taxa. In conclusion, familial patterns of pinniped jaw shape due to phylogenetic relatedness have been modified by adaptations to specialized behavior of individual taxa.
Theropod dinosaurs show striking morphological and functional tail variation; e.g., a long, robust, basal theropod tail used for counterbalance, or a short, modern avian tail used as an aerodynamic surface. We used a quantitative morphological and functional analysis to reconstruct intervertebral joint stiffness in the tail along the theropod lineage to extant birds. This provides new details of the tails morphological transformation, and for the first time quantitatively evaluates its biomechanical consequences. We observe that both dorsoventral and lateral joint stiffness decreased along the non-avian theropod lineage (between nodes Theropoda and Paraves). Our results show how the tail structure of non-avian theropods was mechanically appropriate for holding itself up against gravity and maintaining passive balance. However, as dorsoventral and lateral joint stiffness decreased, the tail may have become more effective for dynamically maintaining balance. This supports our hypothesis of a reduction of dorsoventral and lateral joint stiffness in shorter tails. Along the avian theropod lineage (Avialae to crown group birds), dorsoventral and lateral joint stiffness increased overall, which appears to contradict our null expectation. We infer that this departure in joint stiffness is specific to the tails aerodynamic role and the functional constraints imposed by it. Increased dorsoventral and lateral joint stiffness may have facilitated a gradually improved capacity to lift, depress, and swing the tail. The associated morphological changes should have resulted in a tail capable of producing larger muscular forces to utilise larger lift forces in flight. Improved joint mobility in neornithine birds potentially permitted an increase in the range of lift force vector orientations, which might have improved flight proficiency and manoeuvrability. The tail morphology of modern birds with tail fanning capabilities originated in early ornithuromorph birds. Hence, these capabilities should have been present in the early Cretaceous, with incipient tail-fanning capacity in the earliest pygostylian birds.
Indias Late Cretaceous fossil mammals include the only undisputed pre-Tertiary Gondwanan eutherians, such as Deccanolestes. Recent studies have suggested a relationship between Deccanolestes and African and European Paleocene adapisoriculids, which have been variably identified as stem euarchontans, stem primates, lipotyphlan insectivores, or afrosoricids. Support for a close relationship between Deccanolestes and any of these placental mammal clades would be unique in representing a confirmed Mesozoic record of a placental mammal. However, some paleogeographic reconstructions place India at its peak isolation from all other continents during the latest Cretaceous, complicating reconstructions of the biogeographic history of the placental radiation. Recent fieldwork in India has recovered dozens of better-preserved specimens of Cretaceous eutherians, including several new species. Here, we incorporate these new specimens into an extensive phylogenetic analysis that includes every clade with a previously hypothesized relationship to Deccanolestes. Our results support a robust relationship between Deccanolestes and Paleocene adapisoriculids, but do not support a close affinity between these taxa and any placental clade, demonstrating that Deccanolestes is not a Cretaceous placental mammal and reinforcing the sizeable gap between molecular and fossil divergence time estimates for the placental mammal radiation. Instead, our expanded data push Adapisoriculidae, including Deccanolestes, into a much more basal position than in earlier analyses, strengthening hypotheses that scansoriality and arboreality were prevalent early in eutherian evolution. This comprehensive phylogeny indicates that faunal exchange occurred between India, Africa, and Europe in the Late Cretaceous-Early Paleocene, and suggests a previously unrecognized ?30 to 45 Myr "ghost lineage" for these Gondwanan eutherians.
On 9 March, over 150 biologists gathered in London for the Centre for Ecology and Evolution spring symposium, Integrating Ecology into Macroevolutionary Research. The event brought together researchers from London-based institutions alongside others from across the UK, Europe and North America for a day of talks. The meeting highlighted methodological advances and recent analyses of exemplar datasets focusing on the exploration of the role of ecological processes in shaping macroevolutionary patterns.
Previous analyses of how mammals vary in their ossification sequences have focused on monotremes, marsupials, and boreoeutherian placentals. Here, we focus on the sequence of cranial and postcranial ossification events during growth in the xenarthran skull and skeleton, including armadillos, anteaters, and sloths. We use two different methods to quantify sequence heterochrony: sequence analysis of variance (ANOVA) and event-paring/Parsimov. Our results indicate that Parsimov is conservative and does not detect clear heterochronic shifts between xenarthran and boreoeutherian placentals. Sequence-ANOVA performs better, but both methods exhibit sensitivity to the artifactual accumulation of ties. By controlling for ties and taking into account results that the methods have in common, our analysis suggests that xenarthrans significantly differ from other placentals by a late ossification of the sternum and an early ossification of the phalanges and pubis. We interpret these differences as showing that heterochrony plays a role in the skeletal development of xenarthrans, a change from previous studies that have emphasized the developmental homogeneity of the skeleton across placental mammals.
Carnivory has evolved independently several times in eutherian (including placental) and metatherian (including marsupial) mammals. We used geometric morphometrics to assess convergences associated with the evolution of carnivory across a broad suite of mammals, including the eutherian clades Carnivora and Creodonta and the metatherian clades Thylacoleonidae, Dasyuromorphia, Didelphidae and Borhyaenoidea. We further quantified cranial disparity across eutherians and metatherians to test the hypothesis that the marsupial mode of reproduction has constrained their morphological evolution. This study, to our knowledge the first to extensively sample pre-Pleistocene taxa, analysed 30 three-dimensional landmarks, focused mainly on the facial region, which were digitized on 130 specimens, including 36 fossil taxa. Data were analysed with principal components (PC) analysis, and three measures of disparity were compared between eutherians and metatherians. PC1 showed a shift from short to long faces and seemed to represent diet and ecology. PC2 was dominated by the unique features of sabre-toothed forms: dramatic expansion of the maxilla at the expense of the frontal bones. PC3, in combination with PC1, distinguished metatherians and eutherians. Metatherians, despite common comparisons with felids, were more similar to caniforms, which was unexpected for taxa such as the sabre-toothed marsupial Thylacosmilus. Contrary to previous studies, metatherian carnivores consistently exhibited disparity which exceeded that of the much more speciose eutherian carnivore radiations, refuting the hypothesis that developmental constraints have limited the morphological evolution of the marsupial cranium.
Mammals show a very low level of variation in vertebral count, particularly in the neck. Phenotypes exhibited at various stages during the development of the axial skeleton may play a key role in testing mechanisms recently proposed to explain this conservatism. Here, we provide osteogenetic data that identify developmental criteria with which to recognize cervical vs. noncervical vertebrae in mammals. Except for sloths, all mammals show the late ossification of the caudal-most centra in the neck after other centra and neural arches. In sloths with 8-10 ribless neck vertebrae, the caudal-most neck centra ossify early, matching the pattern observed in cranial thoracic vertebrae of other mammals. Accordingly, we interpret the ribless neck vertebrae of three-toed sloths caudal to V7 as thoracic based on our developmental criterion. Applied to the unusual vertebral phenotype of long-necked sloths, these data support the interpretation that elements of the axial skeleton with origins from distinct mesodermal tissues have repatterned over the course of evolution.
The evolution of mammalian brain size is directly linked with the evolution of the brains unique structure and performance. Both maternal life history investment traits and basal metabolic rate (BMR) correlate with relative brain size, but current hypotheses regarding the details of these relationships are based largely on placental mammals. Using encephalization quotients, partial correlation analyses, and bivariate regressions relating brain size to maternal investment times and BMR, we provide a direct quantitative comparison of brain size evolution in marsupials and placentals, whose reproduction and metabolism differ extensively. Our results show that the misconception that marsupials are systematically smaller-brained than placentals is driven by the inclusion of one large-brained placental clade, Primates. Marsupial and placental brain size partial correlations differ in that marsupials lack a partial correlation of BMR with brain size. This contradicts hypotheses stating that the maintenance of relatively larger brains requires higher BMRs. We suggest that a positive BMR-brain size correlation is a placental trait related to the intimate physiological contact between mother and offspring during gestation. Marsupials instead achieve brain sizes comparable to placentals through extended lactation. Comparison with avian brain evolution suggests that placental brain size should be constrained due to placentals relative precociality, as has been hypothesized for precocial bird hatchlings. We propose that placentals circumvent this constraint because of their focus on gestation, as opposed to the marsupial emphasis on lactation. Marsupials represent a less constrained condition, demonstrating that hypotheses regarding placental brain size evolution cannot be generalized to all mammals.
Although variation provides the raw material for natural selection and evolution, few empirical data exist about the factors controlling morphological variation. Because developmental constraints on variation are expected to act by influencing trait correlations, studies of modularity offer promising approaches that quantify and summarize patterns of trait relationships. Modules, highly-correlated and semi-autonomous sets of traits, are observed at many levels of biological organization, from genes to colonies. The evolutionary significance of modularity is considerable, with potential effects including constraining the variation of individual traits, circumventing pleiotropy and canalization, and facilitating the transformation of functional structures. Despite these important consequences, there has been little empirical study of how modularity influences morphological evolution on a macroevolutionary scale. Here, we conduct the first morphometric analysis of modularity and disparity in two clades of placental mammals, Primates and Carnivora, and test if trait integration within modules constrains or facilitates morphological evolution.
Extant species of the supraordinal mammal clade Euarchonta belong to the orders Primates, Scandentia, or Dermoptera. The fossil record of euarchontans suggests that they underwent their initial radiation during the Paleocene (65-55 million years ago) in North America, Eurasia, and Africa. The time and place of origin is poorly resolved due to lack of definitive fossils of euarchontan stem taxa. We describe a fragmentary humerus and two fragmentary ulnae from the latest Cretaceous of India that bear significantly on this issue. The fossils are tentatively referred to Deccanolestes cf. hislopi due to their small size and the fact that Deccanolestes is the only eutherian dental taxon to have been recovered from the same locality. The new fossils are used to evaluate the existing behavioral hypothesis that Deccanolestes was arboreal, and the competing phylogenetic hypotheses that Deccanolestes is a stem eutherian versus a stem euarchontan. The humerus resembles those of euarchontans in possessing a laterally keeled ulnar trochlea, a distinct zona conoidea, and a spherical capitulum. These features also suggest an arboreal lifestyle. The ulnar morphology is consistent with that of the humerus in reflecting an arboreal/scansorial animal. Detailed quantitative comparisons indicate that, despite morphological correlates to euarchontan-like arboreality, the humerus of Deccanolestes is morphologically intermediate between those of Cretaceous "condylarthran" mammals and definitive Cenozoic euarchontans. Additionally, humeri attributed to adapisoriculids are morphologically intermediate between those of Deccanolestes and definitive euarchontans. If adapisoriculids are euarchontans, as recently proposed, our results suggest that Deccanolestes is more basal. The tentative identification of Deccanolestes as a basal stem euarchontan suggests that (1) Placentalia began to diversify and Euarchonta originated before the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary and (2) the Indian subcontinent, Eurasia, and Africa are more likely places of origin for Euarchonta than is North America.
Evolutionary change in encephalization within and across mammalian clades is well-studied, yet relatively few comparative analyses attempt to quantify the impact of evolutionary change in relative brain size on cranial morphology. Because of the proximity of the braincase to the orbits, and the inter-relationships among ecology, sensory systems and neuroanatomy, a relationship has been hypothesized between orbit orientation and encephalization for mammals. Here, we tested this hypothesis in 68 fossil and living species of the mammalian order Carnivora, comparing orbit orientation angles (convergence and frontation) to skull length and encephalization. No significant correlations were observed between skull length and orbit orientation when all taxa were analysed. Significant correlations were observed between encephalization and orbit orientation; however, these were restricted to the families Felidae and Canidae. Encephalization is positively correlated with frontation in both families and negatively correlated with convergence in canids. These results indicate that no universal relationship exists between encephalization and orbit orientation for Carnivora. Braincase expansion impacts orbit orientation in specific carnivoran clades, the nature of which is idiosyncratic to the clade itself.
Variation in relative brain size is commonly interpreted as the result of selection on neuronal capacity. However, this approach ignores that relative brain size is also linked to another highly adaptive variable: body size. Considering that one-way tradeoff mechanisms are unlikely to provide satisfactory evolutionary explanations, we introduce an analytical framework that describes and quantifies all possible evolutionary scenarios between two traits. To investigate the effects of body mass changes on the interpretation of relative brain size evolution, we analyze three mammalian orders that are expected to be subject to different selective pressures on body size due to differences in locomotor adaptation: bats (powered flight), primates (primarily arboreal), and carnivorans (primarily terrestrial). We quantify rates of brain and body mass changes along individual branches of phylogenetic trees using an adaptive peak model of evolution. We find that the magnitude and variance of the level of integration of brain and body mass rates, and the subsequent relative influence of either brain or body size evolution on the brain-body relationship, differ significantly between orders and subgroups within orders. Importantly, we find that variation in brain-body relationships was driven primarily by variability in body mass. Our approach allows a more detailed interpretation of correlated trait evolution and variation in the underlying evolutionary pathways. Results demonstrate that a principal focus on interpreting relative brain size evolution as selection on neuronal capacity confounds the effects of body mass changes, thereby hiding important aspects that may contribute to explaining animal diversity.
The timing of the placental mammal radiation has been a source of contention for decades. The fossil record of mammals extends over 200 million years, but no confirmed placental mammal fossils are known prior to 64 million years ago, which is approximately 1.5 million years after the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) mass extinction that saw the end of non-avian dinosaurs. Thus, it came as a great surprise when the first published molecular clock studies suggested that placental mammals originated instead far back in the Cretaceous, in some cases doubling divergence estimates based on fossils. In the last few decades, more than a hundred new genera of Mesozoic mammals have been discovered, and molecular divergence studies have grown from simple clock-like models applied to a few genes to sophisticated analyses of entire genomes. Yet, molecular and fossil-based divergence estimates for placental mammal origins have remained remote, with knock-on effects for macro-scale reconstructions of mammal evolution. A few recent molecular studies have begun to converge with fossil-based estimates, and a new phylogenomic study in particular shows that the palaeontological record was mostly correct; most placental mammal orders diversified after the K-Pg mass extinction. While a small gap still remains for Late Cretaceous supraordinal divergences, this study has significantly improved the congruence between molecular and palaeontological data and heralds a broader integration of these fields of evolutionary science.
Quantitative analysis of morphology allows for identification of subtle evolutionary patterns or convergences in anatomy that can aid ecological reconstructions of extinct taxa. This study explores diversity and convergence in cranial morphology across living and fossil primates using geometric morphometrics. 33 3D landmarks were gathered from 34 genera of euprimates (382 specimens), including the Eocene adapiforms Adapis and Leptadapis and Quaternary lemurs Archaeolemur, Palaeopropithecus, and Megaladapis. Landmark data was treated with Procrustes superimposition to remove all nonshape differences and then subjected to principal components analysis and linear discriminant function analysis. Haplorhines and strepsirrhines were well separated in morphospace along the major components of variation, largely reflecting differences in relative skull length and width and facial depth. Most adapiforms fell within or close to strepsirrhine space, while Quaternary lemurs deviated from extant strepsirrhines, either exploring new regions of morphospace or converging on haplorhines. Fossil taxa significantly increased the area of morphospace occupied by strepsirrhines. However, recent haplorhines showed significantly greater cranial disparity than strepsirrhines, even with the inclusion of the unusual Quaternary lemurs, demonstrating that differences in primate cranial disparity are likely real and not simply an artefact of recent megafaunal extinctions.
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