A new fossil discovered in Tunisia represents the oldest known ancestor of modern-day sea cows, supporting the African origins of these marine mammals. The find is described in research published January 16 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Julien Benoit and colleagues from the University of Science and Technology in Montpellier, France.
Some fossils of sea cow ancestors have been found in Jamaica, but the Tunisian fossil is more primitive and pre-dates these, revealing an older ancestor for sea cows that emerged at the same time as other modern mammals. Unlike whales and dolphins, the evolutionary origins of the sea cow family have been obscure.
They share an ancestor with elephants, and it is thought that their oldest relatives were terrestrial animals that gradually adapted to an aquatic life. The last common ancestor of the two species may have lived in freshwater swamps well before the time that the new species described in this study lived. Though this specimen may not have been the common link between modern day sea cows and elephants, the authors' analyses suggest that this new species lived in fresh water, not sea waters.
Benoit J, Adnet S, El Mabrouk E, Khayati H, Ben Haj Ali M, et al. (2013) Cranial Remain from Tunisia Provides New Clues for the Origin and Evolution of Sirenia (Mammalia, Afrotheria) in Africa. PLoS ONE 8(1): e54307. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0054307
Public Library of Science: http://www.plos.org
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In the article on the discovery of dinosaurs (They’re back, Review, 6 June) you state: “In Sussex, a local doctor uncovered fragmentary remains of what appeared to be two more species of colossal extinct land reptiles.” You grossly underplay the contribution of Lewes-born Gideon Mantell, geologist and palaeontologist, author and diarist, friend to princes and international scholars as well as local doctor. Mantell not only discovered (aided by his wife) the first remains of the iguanodon in 1824 but named it – as it resembled the tooth of an iguana. This was the first known land dinosaur, Mary Anning having identified the first sea-living dinosaur.Mantell went on to put together more pieces of the jigsaw with extra fossil discoveries. In contrast to Richard Owen, whose models form the basis for the Crystal Palace dinosaurs, Mantell stated correctly that iguanodon would have walked on their back legs, using their forearms to fight or gather food. He did, however, attribute the thumb spike to a nose horn though later corrected this assumption. The Natural History Museum has a display on Gideon and his wife Mary’s contribution as well as the large “Mantell-piece” of Iguanodon fossils that he had on show in his museum in Brighton. He sold it, along with many more priceless items, to the British Museum in 1838. Gideon Mantell’s reputation deserves better than your throwaway remark. Debby MatthewsLewes, East Sussex Continue reading...
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