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Concept: Miocene


The split of our own clade from the Panini is undocumented in the fossil record. To fill this gap we investigated the dentognathic morphology of Graecopithecus freybergi from Pyrgos Vassilissis (Greece) and cf. Graecopithecus sp. from Azmaka (Bulgaria), using new μCT and 3D reconstructions of the two known specimens. Pyrgos Vassilissis and Azmaka are currently dated to the early Messinian at 7.175 Ma and 7.24 Ma. Mainly based on its external preservation and the previously vague dating, Graecopithecus is often referred to as nomen dubium. The examination of its previously unknown dental root and pulp canal morphology confirms the taxonomic distinction from the significantly older northern Greek hominine Ouranopithecus. Furthermore, it shows features that point to a possible phylogenetic affinity with hominins. G. freybergi uniquely shares p4 partial root fusion and a possible canine root reduction with this tribe and therefore, provides intriguing evidence of what could be the oldest known hominin.

Concepts: Phylogenetics, Hominidae, Greece, Miocene, Morphology, Homininae, Hominini, Nomen dubium


A new specimen of the bizarrely specialised Malleodectes mirabilis from middle Miocene deposits in the Riversleigh World Heritage Area provides the first and only information about the molar dentition of this strange group of extinct marsupials. Apart from striking autapomorphies such as the enormous P3, other dental features such as stylar cusp D being larger than B suggest it belongs in the Order Dasyuromorphia. Phylogenetic analysis of 62 craniodental characters places Malleodectes within Dasyuromorphia albeit with weak support and without indication of specific relationships to any of the three established families (Dasyuridae, Myrmecobiidae and Thylacinidae). Accordingly we have allocated Malleodectes to the new family, Malleodectidae. Some features suggest potential links to previously named dasyuromorphians from Riversleigh (e.g., Ganbulanyi) but these are too poorly known to test this possibility. Although the original interpretation of a steeply declining molar row in Malleodectes can be rejected, it continues to seem likely that malleodectids specialised on snails but probably also consumed a wider range of prey items including small vertebrates. Whatever their actual diet, malleodectids appear to have filled a niche in Australia’s rainforests that has not been occupied by any other mammal group anywhere in the world from the Miocene onwards.

Concepts: Australia, Marsupial, Miocene, Dasyuromorphia, Dasyuridae, Numbat, Thylacine, Thylacinidae


The genus Citrus, comprising some of the most widely cultivated fruit crops worldwide, includes an uncertain number of species. Here we describe ten natural citrus species, using genomic, phylogenetic and biogeographic analyses of 60 accessions representing diverse citrus germ plasms, and propose that citrus diversified during the late Miocene epoch through a rapid southeast Asian radiation that correlates with a marked weakening of the monsoons. A second radiation enabled by migration across the Wallace line gave rise to the Australian limes in the early Pliocene epoch. Further identification and analyses of hybrids and admixed genomes provides insights into the genealogy of major commercial cultivars of citrus. Among mandarins and sweet orange, we find an extensive network of relatedness that illuminates the domestication of these groups. Widespread pummelo admixture among these mandarins and its correlation with fruit size and acidity suggests a plausible role of pummelo introgression in the selection of palatable mandarins. This work provides a new evolutionary framework for the genus Citrus.

Concepts: Gene, Biology, Citrus, Orange, Pliocene, Miocene, Grapefruit, Alfred Russel Wallace


Kogiids are known by two living species, the pygmy and dwarf sperm whale (Kogia breviceps and K. sima). Both are relatively rare, and as their names suggest, they are closely related to the sperm whale, all being characterized by the presence of a spermaceti organ. However, this organ is much reduced in kogiids and may have become functionally different. Here we describe a fossil kogiid from the late Miocene of Panama and we explore the evolutionary history of the group with special attention to this evolutionary reduction. The fossil consists of cranial material from the late Tortonian (~7.5 Ma) Piña facies of the Chagres Formation in Panama. Detailed comparison with other fossil and extant kogiids and the results of a phylogenetic analysis place the Panamanian kogiid, herein named Nanokogia isthmia gen. et sp. nov., as a taxon most closely related to Praekogia cedrosensis from the Messinian (~6 Ma) of Baja California and to Kogia spp. Furthermore our results show that reduction of the spermaceti organ has occurred iteratively in kogiids, once in Thalassocetus antwerpiensis in the early-middle Miocene, and more recently in Kogia spp. Additionally, we estimate the divergence between extant species of Kogia at around the late Pliocene, later than previously predicted by molecular estimates. Finally, comparison of Nanokogia with the coeval Scaphokogia cochlearis from Peru shows that these two species display a greater morphological disparity between them than that observed between the extant members of the group. We hypothesize that this reflects differences in feeding ecologies of the two species, with Nanokogia being more similar to extant Kogia. Nanokogia shows that kogiids have been part of the Neotropical marine mammal communities at least since the late Miocene, and gives us insight into the evolutionary history and origins of one of the rarest groups of living whales.

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Mammal, Pliocene, Sperm whale, Miocene, Whale, Sperm whales


The study of how long-term changes affect metacommunities is a relevant topic, that involves the evaluation of connections among biological assemblages across different spatio-temporal scales, in order to fully understand links between global changes and macroevolutionary patterns. We applied multivariate statistical analyses and diversity tests using a large data matrix of rodent fossil sites in order to analyse long-term faunal changes. Late Miocene rodent faunas from southwestern Europe were classified into metacommunities, presumably sharing ecological affinities, which followed temporal and environmental non-random assembly and disassembly patterns. Metacommunity dynamics of these faunas were driven by environmental changes associated with temperature variability, but there was also some influence from the aridity shifts described for this region during the late Miocene. Additionally, while variations in the structure of rodent assemblages were directly influenced by global climatic changes in the southern province, the northern sites showed a pattern of climatic influence mediated by diversity-dependent processes.

Concepts: Statistics, Mathematics, Ecology, Multivariate statistics, Climate change, Europe, Pattern, Miocene


In this study we analysed the phylogenetic relationships of eastern Mediterranean freshwater planarians of the genus Dugesia, estimated divergence times for the various clades, and correlated their phylogeographic patterns with geological and paleoclimatic events, in order to discover which evolutionary processes have shaped the present-day distribution of these animals. Specimens were collected from freshwater courses and lakes in continental and insular Greece. Genetic divergences and phylogenetic relationships were inferred by using the mitochondrial gene subunit I of cytochrome oxidase (COI) and the nuclear ribosomal internal transcribed spacer-1 (ITS-1) from 74 newly collected individuals from Greece. Divergence time estimates were obtained under a Bayesian framework, using the COI sequences. Two alternative geological dates for the isolation of Crete from the mainland were tested as calibration points. A clear phylogeographic pattern was present for Dugesia lineages in the Eastern Mediterranean. Morphological data, combined with information on genetic divergences, revealed that 8 out of the 9 known species were represented in the samples, while additional new, and still undescribed species were detected. Divergence time analyses suggested that Dugesia species became isolated in Crete after the first geological isolation of the island, and that their present distribution in the Eastern Mediterranean has been shaped mainly by vicariant events but also by dispersal. During the Messinian salinity crisis these freshwater planarians apparently were not able to cross the sea barrier between Crete and the mainland, while they probably did disperse between islands in the Aegean Sea. Their dependence on freshwater to survive suggests the presence of contiguous freshwater bodies in those regions. Our results also suggest a major extinction of freshwater planarians on the Peloponnese at the end of the Pliocene, while about 2 Mya ago, when the current Mediterranean climate was established, these Peloponnese populations probably began to disperse again. At the end of the Pliocene or during the Pleistocene, mainland populations of Dugesia colonized the western coast, including the Ionian Islands, which were then part of the continent.

Concepts: Evolution, Mediterranean Sea, Europe, Phylogenetics, Turkey, Greece, Miocene, Messinian salinity crisis


A common hypothesis for the rich biodiversity found in mountains is uplift-driven diversification-that orogeny creates conditions favoring rapid in situ speciation of resident lineages. We tested this hypothesis in the context of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau (QTP) and adjoining mountain ranges, using the phylogenetic and geographic histories of multiple groups of plants to infer the tempo (rate) and mode (colonization versus in situ diversification) of biotic assembly through time and across regions. We focused on the Hengduan Mountains region, which in comparison with the QTP and Himalayas was uplifted more recently (since the late Miocene) and is smaller in area and richer in species. Time-calibrated phylogenetic analyses show that about 8 million y ago the rate of in situ diversification increased in the Hengduan Mountains, significantly exceeding that in the geologically older QTP and Himalayas. By contrast, in the QTP and Himalayas during the same period the rate of in situ diversification remained relatively flat, with colonization dominating lineage accumulation. The Hengduan Mountains flora was thus assembled disproportionately by recent in situ diversification, temporally congruent with independent estimates of orogeny. This study shows quantitative evidence for uplift-driven diversification in this region, and more generally, tests the hypothesis by comparing the rate and mode of biotic assembly jointly across time and space. It thus complements the more prevalent method of examining endemic radiations individually and could be used as a template to augment such studies in other biodiversity hotspots.

Concepts: Time, Biodiversity, Evolution, Species, Miocene, Biodiversity hotspots, Biodiversity hotspot, Eastern Himalaya


Many odontocete groups have developed enlarged facial crests, although these crests differ in topography, composition and function. The most elaborate crests occur in the South Asian river dolphin (Platanista gangetica), in which they rise dorsally as delicate, pneumatized wings anterior of the facial bones. Their position wrapping around the melon suggests their involvement in sound propagation for echolocation. To better understand the origin of crests in this lineage, we examined facial crests among fossil and living Platanistoidea, including a new taxon, Dilophodelphis fordycei, nov. gen. and sp., described herein, from the Early Miocene Astoria Formation of Oregon, USA. We measured the physical extent and thickness of platanistoid crests, categorized their relative position and used computed tomography scans to examine their internal morphology and relative bone density. Integrating these traits in a phylogenetic context, we determined that the onset of crest elaboration or enlargement and the evolution of crest pneumatization among the platanistoids were separate events, with crest enlargement beginning in the Oligocene. However, we find no evidence for pneumatization until possibly the Early Miocene, although certainly by the Middle Miocene. Such an evolutionary context, including data from the fossil record, should inform modelling efforts that seek to understand the diversity of sound generation morphology in Odontoceti.

Concepts: Evolution, Density, Phylogenetics, Fossil, Paleontology, Dolphin, Cetacea, Miocene


A new taxon of stem otariid, Eotaria citrica sp. nov., is described from the upper Burdigalian to lower Langhian “Topanga” formation of Orange County, California. The new species is described from mandibular and dental remains that show a unique combination of plesiomorphic and derived characters. Specifically, it is characterized by having trenchant and prominent paraconid cusps in p3-m1, lingual cingula of p2-4 with faint crenulations, premolars and molars with vestigial metaconid, bilobed root of m2 and a genial tuberosity located under p3. Furthermore, additional material of the contemporaneous Eotaria crypta is described, providing new information on the morphology of this taxon. Both species of Eotaria represent the earliest stem otariids, reinforcing the hypothesis that the group originated in the north Eastern Pacific Region. At present, the “Topanga” Fm. pinniped fauna includes Eotaria citrica, Eotaria crypta, the desmatophocid Allodesmus sp., the odobenids Neotherium sp., Pelagiarctos sp. and includes the oldest records of crown pinnipeds in California. Overall this pinniped fauna is similar to the nearly contemporaneous Sharktooth Hill bonebed. However, unambiguous records of Eotaria are still missing from Sharktooth Hill. This absence may be due to taphonomic or paleoenvironmental factors. The new “Topanga” record presented here was integrated into an overview of the late Oligocene through early Pleistocene pinniped faunas of Southern California. The results show an overall increase in body size over time until the Pleistocene. Furthermore, desmatophocids were the largest pinnipeds during the middle Miocene, but were extinct by the beginning of the late Miocene. Odobenids diversified and became the dominant pinnipeds in late Miocene through Pleistocene assemblages, usually approaching or exceeding 3 m in body length, while otariids remained as the smallest taxa. This pattern contrasts with modern assemblages, in which the phocid Mirounga angustirostris is the largest pinniped taxon in the region, odobenids are extinct and medium and small size ranges are occupied by otariids or other phocids.

Concepts: California, Pacific Ocean, Pinniped, Carnivora, Miocene, Elephant seal, Walrus, Earless seal


Global and regional environmental changes have influenced the evolutionary processes of hominoid primates, particularly during the Miocene. Recently, a new Lufengpithecus cf. lufengensis hominoid fossil with a late Miocene age of ~6.2 Ma was discovered in the Shuitangba (STB) section of the Zhaotong Basin in Yunnan on the southeast margin of the Tibetan Plateau. To understand the relationship between paleoclimate and hominoid evolution, we have studied sedimentary, clay mineralogy and geochemical proxies for the late Miocene STB section (~16 m thick; ca. 6.7-6.0 Ma). Our results show that Lufengpithecus cf. lufengensis lived in a mildly warm and humid climate in a lacustrine or swamp environment. Comparing mid to late Miocene records from hominoid sites in Yunnan, Siwalik in Pakistan, and tropical Africa we find that ecological shifts from forest to grassland in Siwalik are much later than in tropical Africa, consistent with the disappearance of hominoid fossils. However, no significant vegetation changes are found in Yunnan during the late Miocene, which we suggest is the result of uplift of the Tibetan plateau combined with the Asian monsoon geographically and climatically isolating these regions. The resultant warm and humid conditions in southeastern China offered an important refuge for Miocene hominoids.

Concepts: Evolution, Climate, Sedimentary rock, Hominidae, Fossil, Himalayas, Miocene, Tibet Autonomous Region