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Concept: Extant taxon


At 50 kg in estimated weight, the extinct Siamogale melilutra is larger than all living otters, and ranks among the largest fossil otters. The biomechanical capability of S. melilutra jaws as related to their large size is unknown but crucial to reconstructing the species' potentially unique ecological niche. Here we compare the mandibular biomechanics of S. melilutra using engineering-based performance measures against ten extant otter biomechanical models. Despite a wide range of feeding preferences from durophagy to piscivory, living otter species exhibit a linear relationship between mandible stiffness and volume, as expected in isometric model scaling. In contrast, S. melilutra models exhibit a six-fold increase in stiffness from expected stiffness-volume relationships calculated from extant species models. Unlike stiffness, mechanical efficiency of biting is conserved among living otters and in S. melilutra. These findings indicate that although similar to living bunodont otters in morphology and biting efficiency, jaw strength in S. melilutra far surpasses molluscivores such as sea otters and Cape clawless otters, even after accounting for size. Therefore, Siamogale represents a feeding ecomorphology with no living analog, and its giant size and high mandibular strength confer shell-crushing capability matched only by other extinct molluscivores such as the marine bear Kolponomos.

Concepts: Biomechanics, Extinction, Otters, Mustelidae, Sea otter, Otter, Extant taxon, Aonyx


Individual elements of many extinct and extant North American rhinocerotids display osteopathologies, particularly exostoses, abnormal textures, and joint margin porosity, that are commonly associated with localized bone trauma. When we evaluated six extinct rhinocerotid species spanning 50 million years (Ma), we found the incidence of osteopathology increases from 28% of all elements of Eocene Hyrachyus eximius to 65-80% of all elements in more derived species. The only extant species in this study, Diceros bicornis, displayed less osteopathologies (50%) than the more derived extinct taxa. To get a finer-grained picture, we scored each fossil for seven pathological indicators on a scale of 1-4. We estimated the average mass of each taxon using M1-3 length and compared mass to average pathological score for each category. We found that with increasing mass, osteopathology also significantly increases. We then ran a phylogenetically-controlled regression analysis using a time-calibrated phylogeny of our study taxa. Mass estimates were found to significantly covary with abnormal foramen shape and abnormal bone textures. This pattern in osteopathological expression may reflect a part of the complex system of adaptations in the Rhinocerotidae over millions of years, where increased mass, cursoriality, and/or increased life span are selected for, to the detriment of long-term bone health. This work has important implications for the future health of hoofed animals and humans alike.

Concepts: Evolution, Phylogenetic nomenclature, Cladistics, Extinction, Rhinoceros, White Rhinoceros, Black Rhinoceros, Extant taxon


Using historic data sets, we quantified the degree to which global change over 120 years disrupted plant-pollinator interactions in a temperate forest understory community in Illinois, USA. We found degradation of interaction network structure and function and extirpation of 50% of bee species. Network changes can be attributed to shifts in forb and bee phenologies resulting in temporal mismatches, nonrandom species extinctions, and loss of spatial co-occurrences between extant species in modified landscapes. Quantity and quality of pollination services have declined through time. The historic network showed flexibility in response to disturbance; however, our data suggest that networks will be less resilient to future changes.

Concepts: Time, Evolution, Interaction, Sociology, Extinction, Gottfried Leibniz, Extant taxon


Increases in relative encephalization (RE), brain size after controlling for body size, comes at a great metabolic cost and is correlated with a host of cognitive traits, from the ability to count objects to higher rates of innovation. Despite many studies examining the implications and trade-offs accompanying increased RE, the relationship between mammalian extinction risk and RE is unknown. I examine whether mammals with larger levels of RE are more or less likely to be at risk of endangerment than less-encephalized species. I find that extant species with large levels of encephalization are at greater risk of endangerment, with this effect being strongest in species with small body sizes. These results suggest that RE could be a valuable asset in estimating extinction vulnerability. Additionally, these findings suggest that the cost-benefit trade-off of RE is different in large-bodied species when compared with small-bodied species.

Concepts: Brain, Evolution, Species, Mammal, Extinction, Dinosaur, Cephalopod, Extant taxon


Palaeopathology offers unique insight to the healing strategies of extinct organisms, permitting questions concerning bone physiology to be answered in greater depth. Unfortunately, most palaeopathological studies are confined to external morphological interpretations due to the destructive nature of traditional methods of study. This limits the degree of reliable diagnosis and interpretation possible. X-ray MicroTomography (micro-CT, XMT) provides a non-destructive means of analysing the internal three-dimensional structure of pathologies in both extant and extinct individuals, at higher resolutions than possible with medical scanners. In this study, we present external and internal descriptions of pathologies in extant and extinct archosaurs using XMT. This work demonstrates that the combination of external/internal diagnosis that X-ray microtomography facilitates is crucial when differentiating between pathological conditions. Furthermore, we show that the use of comparative species, both through direct analysis and from the literature, provides key information for diagnosing between vertebrate groups in the typical pathological conditions and physiological processes. Micro-CT imaging, combined with comparative observations of extant species, provides more detailed and reliable interpretation of palaeopathologies. Micro-CT is an increasingly accessible tool, which will provide key insights for correctly interpreting vertebrate pathologies in the future.

Concepts: Biology, Pathology, Physiology, Medical diagnosis, Extinction, Interpretation, Language interpretation, Extant taxon


Studies linking postcranial morphology with locomotion in mammals are common. However, such studies are mostly restricted to caviomorphs in rodents. We present here data from various families, belonging to the three main groups of rodents (Sciuroidea, Myodonta, and Ctenohystrica). The aim of this study is to define morphological indicators for the astragalus and calcaneus, which allow for inferences to be made about the locomotor behaviours in rodents. Several specimens were dissected and described to bridge the myology of the leg with the morphology of the bones of interest. Osteological characters were described, compared, mechanically interpreted, and correlated with a “functional sequence” comprising six categories linked to the lifestyle and locomotion (jumping, cursorial, generalist, fossorial, climber and semi-aquatic). Some character states are typical of some of these categories, especially arboreal climbers, fossorial and “cursorial-jumping” taxa. Such reliable characters might be used to infer locomotor behaviours in extinct species. Linear discriminant analyses (LDAs) were used on a wider sample of species and show that astragalar and calcaneal characters can be used to discriminate the categories among extant species whereas a posteriori inferences on extinct species should be examined with caution.

Concepts: Species, Mammal, Rodent, Extinction, Locomotion, Climbing, Extant taxon, Jumping


The anomalous occurrence of supposedly Gondwanan taxa in Laurasian-derived regions remains an intriguing chapter of paleobiogeographical history. Representatives of Peripatidae, a major subgroup of velvet worms (Onychophora), show a disjointed distribution in the neotropics, tropical Africa, and Southeast Asia, the latter being the only landmass previously associated with Laurasia [1, 2]. The arrival of these animals in Southeast Asia is explained by two alternative, albeit not mutually exclusive, hypotheses: an early migration via Europe before continental drift (Eurogondwana hypothesis) or transportation via insular India during the Cretaceous and Paleogene (“out-of-India” hypothesis) [3-6]. The latter hypothesis is based on a single extant species of Peripatidae, Typhloperipatus williamsoni, in India. †Cretoperipatus burmiticus from Myanmar is the oldest fossil onychophoran found in amber [7], dating to sometime between the two proposed scenarios, and hence crucial for clarifying how Gondwanan lineages of these low-vagility animals reached Southeast Asia (see also Supplemental Information). Based on the anatomical reconstruction of †C. burmiticus using synchrotron radiation-based X-ray microtomography (SRμCT) and comparisons with extant taxa, we resolved this fossil species within Onychophora, particularly within Peripatidae, with T. williamsoni as its closest extant relative. This suggests that an early Eurogondwanan migration of peripatids was the most likely event, as Burmese amber is too old to be compatible with the out-of-India hypothesis. Moreover, peripatids probably colonized India only recently from Myanmar, refuting the putative Gondwanan relict status of Indian onychophorans. Finally, preservation artifacts identified in the novel amber material might have a major impact on studies of onychophoran stem and/or crown groups.

Concepts: Southeast Asia, Continent, Animal, Extinction, Gondwana, Burma, Extant taxon, Onychophora


Ancestral state reconstruction of discrete character traits is often vital when attempting to understand the origins and homology of traits in living species. The addition of fossils has been shown to alter our understanding of trait evolution in extant taxa, but researchers may avoid using fossils alongside extant species if only few are known, or if the designation of the trait of interest is uncertain. Here, I investigate the impacts of fossils and incorrectly coded fossils in the ancestral state reconstruction of discrete morphological characters under a likelihood model. Under simulated phylogenies and data, likelihood-based models are generally accurate when estimating ancestral node values. Analyses with combined fossil and extant data always outperform analyses with extant species alone, even when around one quarter of the fossil information is incorrect. These results are especially pronounced when model assumptions are violated, such as when there is a trend away from the root value. Fossil data are of particular importance when attempting to estimate the root node character state. Attempts should be made to include fossils in analysis of discrete traits under likelihood, even if there is uncertainty in the fossil trait data.

Concepts: DNA, Evolution, Biology, Phylogenetics, Extinction, Fossil, Charles Darwin, Extant taxon


Cephalopods have been utilised in neuroscience research for more than 100 years particularly because of their phenotypic plasticity, complex and centralised nervous system, tractability for studies of learning and cellular mechanisms of memory (e.g. long-term potentiation) and anatomical features facilitating physiological studies (e.g. squid giant axon and synapse). On 1 January 2013, research using any of the about 700 extant species of “live cephalopods” became regulated within the European Union by Directive 2010/63/EU on the “Protection of Animals used for Scientific Purposes”, giving cephalopods the same EU legal protection as previously afforded only to vertebrates. The Directive has a number of implications, particularly for neuroscience research. These include: (1) projects will need justification, authorisation from local competent authorities, and be subject to review including a harm-benefit assessment and adherence to the 3Rs principles (Replacement, Refinement and Reduction). (2) To support project evaluation and compliance with the new EU law, guidelines specific to cephalopods will need to be developed, covering capture, transport, handling, housing, care, maintenance, health monitoring, humane anaesthesia, analgesia and euthanasia. (3) Objective criteria need to be developed to identify signs of pain, suffering, distress and lasting harm particularly in the context of their induction by an experimental procedure. Despite diversity of views existing on some of these topics, this paper reviews the above topics and describes the approaches being taken by the cephalopod research community (represented by the authorship) to produce “guidelines” and the potential contribution of neuroscience research to cephalopod welfare.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, European Union, Axon, Synapse, Cephalopod, Extant taxon


Fluctuations in [CO 2 ] have been widely studied as a potential driver of plant evolution; however, the role of a fluctuating [O 2 ]:[CO 2 ] ratio is often overlooked. The present study aimed to investigate the inherent physiological plasticity of early diverging, extant species following acclimation to an atmosphere similar to that across the Triassic-Jurassic mass extinction interval (TJB, approx. 200 Mya), a time of major ecological change.

Concepts: Time, Conservation biology, Evolution, Biology, Plant, Atmosphere, Extinction, Extant taxon