Monday, 8 June 2015

South American fossil ungulates are related to modern horses

Macrauchenia - an extinct South American native ungulate
Drawn by Kobrina Olga (Wikimedia Commons CC BY 3.0)
South American mammals either arrived recently during the Great American Interchange, came to South America by rafting (previous post), or have a shallow fossil record (xenarthrans). In contrast, South American native ungulates (SANU) have a deep fossil record. Though the lineage is now extinct, genera such as Macrauchenia (above) and Toxodon survived into the Late Quaternary. The conditions under which these fossils were conserved did not favour survival of their DNA. However, a paper just out in Nature (here) shows how proteomics can be used to probe their phylogenetic affinities.

The authors used MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry to determine the amino acid sequences of the alpha chains of type I collagen extracted from fossil bones. They then performed a phylogenetic analysis. This showed that Macrauchenia and Toxodon form a monophyletic group. Interestingly, this resolved as the sister group to modern Perissodactyla, i.e. horses, tapirs and rhinoceroses. Together they form a taxon named Panperissodactyla.

The modern species have an epitheliochorial placenta so perhaps this type was present in the sister species Macrauchenia  and Toxodon.

1 comment:

  1. If they compared tapir material???? Great maldi tof analyses!!!