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
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
Free-living songbirds show increased stress hormone levels when nesting under white street lights. But different light spectra may have different physiological effects as this study finds, suggesting that using street lights with specific colour spectra may mitigate effects of light pollution on wildlife
Scientists identify the condition aphantasia, in which people cannot create images in their head
The dust in our homes contains an average of 9,000 different types of fungi and bacteria, a study suggests.
A mosquito can bear up to 23 times its total body weight on each leg, which is crucial for landing on water – the insect's secret is way it stands
Tropical species with smaller geographical ranges are more likely to die out in a warming climate than those that can adapt by ‘invading’ new regions
Most people think of bacteria as germs, signs of filth, or unwanted bringers of disease. Slowly, that view …
The gloomy octopuses crowded at Jervis Bay, Australia, appear to spit and throw debris such as shell at each other in what could be an intentional use of weapons
Therapies based on hormones that make us more trusting enhance our natural placebo effect – a finding that could alter the way clinical trials are conducted
The blind, hairless babies born recently at Washington D.C.'s National Zoo are completely dependent on their mothers—who can sometimes accidentally crush them.
The poop-hoarding insects have an amazingly advanced internal GPS that allows them to navigate by day or night.