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Concept: Gondwana


Cave shrimps from the genera Typhlatya, Stygiocaris and Typhlopatsa (Atyidae) are restricted to specialised coastal subterranean habitats or nearby freshwaters and have a highly disconnected distribution (Eastern Pacific, Caribbean, Atlantic, Mediterranean, Madagascar, Australia). The combination of a wide distribution and a limited dispersal potential suggests a large-scale process has generated this geographic pattern. Tectonic plates that fragment ancestral ranges (vicariance) has often been assumed to cause this process, with the biota as passive passengers on continental blocks. The ancestors of these cave shrimps are believed to have inhabited the ancient Tethys Sea, with three particular geological events hypothesised to have led to their isolation and divergence; (1) the opening of the Atlantic Ocean, (2) the breakup of Gondwana, and (3) the closure of the Tethys Seaway. We test the relative contribution of vicariance and dispersal in the evolutionary history of this group using mitochondrial genomes to reconstruct phylogenetic and biogeographic scenarios with fossil-based calibrations. Given that the Australia/Madagascar shrimp divergence postdates the Gondwanan breakup, our results suggest both vicariance (the Atlantic opening) and dispersal. The Tethys closure appears not to have been influential, however we hypothesise that changing marine currents had an important early influence on their biogeography.

Concepts: Plate tectonics, Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Ocean, Gondwana, Biogeography, Black Sea, Pangaea


An articulated and partially preserved skeleton of an ichthyosaur was found in the Upper Jurassic (Upper Kimmeridgian) Katrol Formation exposed at a site south of the village Lodai in Kachchh district, Gujarat (western India). Here we present a detailed description and inferred taxonomic relationship of the specimen. The present study revealed that the articulated skeleton belongs to the family Ophthalmosauridae. The new discovery from India further improves the depauperate fossil record of ichthyosaurs from the former Gondwanan continents. Based on the preserved length of the axial skeleton and anterior part of the snout and taking into account the missing parts of the skull and postflexural region, it is suggested that the specimen may represent an adult possibly reaching a length of 5.0-5.5 m. The widespread occurrence of ophthalmosaurids in the Upper Jurassic deposits of western Tethys, Madagascar, South America and India points to possible faunal exchanges between the western Tethys and Gondwanan continents through a southern seaway.

Concepts: South America, Cretaceous, Gondwana, Triassic, Mesozoic, Jurassic, Ichthyosaur, Ophthalmosaurus


Trilobites were one of the most successful groups of marine arthropods during the Palaeozoic era, yet their soft-part anatomy is only known from a few exceptionally-preserved specimens found in a handful of localities from the Cambrian to the Devonian. This is because, even if the sclerotized appendages were not destroyed during early taphonomic stages, they are often overprinted by the three-dimensional, mineralised exoskeleton. Inferences about the ventral anatomy and behavioural activities of trilobites can also be derived from the ichnological record, which suggests that most Cruziana and Rusophycus trace fossils were possibly produced by the actions of trilobites. Three specimens of the asaphid trilobite Megistaspis (Ekeraspis) hammondi, have been discovered in the Lower Ordovician Fezouata Konservat-Lagerst├Ątte of southern Morocco, preserving appendages and digestive tract. The digestive structures include a crop with digestive caeca, while the appendages display exopodal setae and slight heteropody (cephalic endopods larger and more spinose than thoracic and pygidial ones). The combination of these digestive structures and the heteropody has never been described together among trilobites, and the latter could assist in the understanding of the production of certain comb-like traces of the Cruziana rugosa group, which are extraordinarily abundant on the shallow marine shelves around Gondwana.

Concepts: Arthropod, Fossil, Gondwana, Ordovician, Trilobite, Cambrian, Paleozoic, Cruziana


Mass extinctions have profoundly impacted the evolution of life through not only reducing taxonomic diversity but also reshaping ecosystems and biogeographic patterns. In particular, they are considered to have driven increased biogeographic cosmopolitanism, but quantitative tests of this hypothesis are rare and have not explicitly incorporated information on evolutionary relationships. Here we quantify faunal cosmopolitanism using a phylogenetic network approach for 891 terrestrial vertebrate species spanning the late Permian through Early Jurassic. This key interval witnessed the Permian-Triassic and Triassic-Jurassic mass extinctions, the onset of fragmentation of the supercontinent Pangaea, and the origins of dinosaurs and many modern vertebrate groups. Our results recover significant increases in global faunal cosmopolitanism following both mass extinctions, driven mainly by new, widespread taxa, leading to homogenous ‘disaster faunas’. Cosmopolitanism subsequently declines in post-recovery communities. These shared patterns in both biotic crises suggest that mass extinctions have predictable influences on animal distribution and may shed light on biodiversity loss in extant ecosystems.Mass extinctions are thought to produce ‘disaster faunas’, communities dominated by a small number of widespread species. Here, Button et al. develop a phylogenetic network approach to test this hypothesis and find that mass extinctions did increase faunal cosmopolitanism across Pangaea during the late Palaeozoic and early Mesozoic.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Evolution, Vertebrate, Extinction, Gondwana, Dinosaur, Pangaea, Paleozoic


Myzopodidae is a family of bats today represented by two extant species of the genus Myzopoda that are restricted to the island of Madagascar. These bats possess uniquely derived adhesive pads on their thumbs and ankles that they use for clinging to smooth roosting surfaces. Only one fossil myzopodid has been reported previously, a humerus from Pleistocene deposits at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania that was tentatively referred to the genus Myzopoda. Here we describe a new genus and two new species of myzopodids based on dental remains from Paleogene deposits in the Fayum Depression in Egypt, and provide an emended diagnosis for the family Myzopodidae. Phasmatonycteris phiomensis n. sp. is represented by four specimens from the early Oligocene Jebel Qatrani Formation and P. butleri n. sp. is known from a single specimen from the late Eocene Birket Qarun Formation. Together these specimens extend the temporal range of Myzopodidae by 36+ million years, and the geographic range by nearly 4000 kilometers. The new myzopodids, along with previously described bats from the Fayum and Australia, suggest that eastern Gondwana played a critical role in the origin and diversification of several bats clades notably including the superfamily Noctilionoidea, the majority of which live in the Neotropics today.

Concepts: Biology, Species, Mammal, Primate, Bat, Gondwana, Oligocene, Eocene


We show using the most complete phylogeny of one of the most species-rich orders of vertebrates (Gobiiformes), and calibrations from the rich fossil record of teleost fishes, that the genus Typhleotris, endemic to subterranean karst habitats in southwestern Madagascar, is the sister group to Milyeringa, endemic to similar subterranean systems in northwestern Australia. Both groups are eyeless, and our phylogenetic and biogeographic results show that these obligate cave fishes now found on opposite ends of the Indian Ocean (separated by nearly 7,000 km) are each others closest relatives and owe their origins to the break up of the southern supercontinent, Gondwana, at the end of the Cretaceous period. Trans-oceanic sister-group relationships are otherwise unknown between blind, cave-adapted vertebrates and our results provide an extraordinary case of Gondwanan vicariance.

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Species, Phylogenetics, Madagascar, Antarctica, Gondwana, Dinosaur


The evolution of the ratite birds has been widely attributed to vicariant speciation, driven by the Cretaceous breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana. The early isolation of Africa and Madagascar implies that the ostrich and extinct Madagascan elephant birds (Aepyornithidae) should be the oldest ratite lineages. We sequenced the mitochondrial genomes of two elephant birds and performed phylogenetic analyses, which revealed that these birds are the closest relatives of the New Zealand kiwi and are distant from the basal ratite lineage of ostriches. This unexpected result strongly contradicts continental vicariance and instead supports flighted dispersal in all major ratite lineages. We suggest that convergence toward gigantism and flightlessness was facilitated by early Tertiary expansion into the diurnal herbivory niche after the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Concepts: Evolution, Bird, Speciation, Gondwana, Kiwi, Ostrich, Flightless bird, Ratite


Paleozoic scorpions (Arachnida: Scorpiones) have been widely documented from the Carboniferous Period; which hosts a remarkable assemblage of more than sixty species including both putative stem- and crown-group fossils. By contrast the succeeding Permian Period is almost completely devoid of records, which are currently restricted to a trace fossil from the early Permian of New Mexico, USA and some limb fragments from the late Permian of the Vologda Region, Russia.

Concepts: Arachnid, Fossil, Scorpion, Gondwana, Carboniferous, Permian, Pangaea, Trace fossil


Molecular clock estimates of crown strepsirhine origins generally advocate an ancient antiquity for Malagasy lemuriforms and Afro-Asian lorisiforms, near the onset of the Tertiary but most often extending back to the Late Cretaceous. Despite their inferred early origin, the subsequent evolutionary histories of both groups (except for the Malagasy aye-aye lineage) exhibit a vacuum of lineage diversification during most part of the Eocene, followed by a relative acceleration in diversification from the late Middle Eocene. This early evolutionary stasis was tentatively explained by the possibility of unrecorded lineage extinctions during the early Tertiary. However, this prevailing molecular view regarding the ancient origin and early diversification of crown strepsirhines must be viewed with skepticism due to the new but still scarce paleontological evidence gathered in recent years.

Concepts: Evolution, Mammal, Primate, Bat, Fossil, Gondwana, Dinosaur, Cenozoic


Terrestrial vertebrates are first known to colonize high-latitude regions during the middle Permian (Guadalupian) about 270 million years ago, following the Pennsylvanian Gondwanan continental glaciation. However, despite over 150 years of study in these areas, the biogeographic origins of these rich communities of land-dwelling vertebrates remain obscure. Here we report on a new early Permian continental tetrapod fauna from South America in tropical Western Gondwana that sheds new light on patterns of tetrapod distribution. Northeastern Brazil hosted an extensive lacustrine system inhabited by a unique community of temnospondyl amphibians and reptiles that considerably expand the known temporal and geographic ranges of key subgroups. Our findings demonstrate that tetrapod groups common in later Permian and Triassic temperate communities were already present in tropical Gondwana by the early Permian (Cisuralian). This new fauna constitutes a new biogeographic province with North American affinities and clearly demonstrates that tetrapod dispersal into Gondwana was already underway at the beginning of the Permian.

Concepts: Tetrapod, Synapsid, Gondwana, Biogeography, Carboniferous, Mesozoic, Permian, Labyrinthodontia