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Cope-ing with hyraxes



Ron Orenstein wrote:

> It would be more correct to say that elephants, sirenians and
> hyraxes are more closely related to each other than any is to any
> other mammal group.

and before that George Olshevsky wrote:

] Nevertheless, extinction has been the fate of all but five species
] of rhinos--and those five are >all< presently endangered.

I'd like to tie these two pieces together by noting that in the June
1996 issue of _Natural History_ there is an article about a field
naturalist's experiences with the wily varmints (hyraxes) in the wild.
He notes in a very brief paragraph about what hyraxes are that some
recent analyses have suggested that hyraxes are actually more closely
related to rhinos than to sirenians and proboscideans.  I also thought
it would be good to mention that here so that people can appreciate
that it ain't just paleontologists that like to argue about
phylogenies and systematics :-)  Ron's statement is still the majority
opinion, but like everything else in science it isn't necessarily
correct. 

My subject line above was a pun which anyone who's seen the _Natural
History_ article should appreciate.  But my reference to Cope was in
response to Tom Hotz's lament:

} Oh, freaking bloody hell!!  Did NO ONE read any of the stuff I
} posted last month on "Cope's Rule"?!?!?!

Watch it, Tom.  We're wanted men.  I have the death sentence in twelve
systems!  (Help! I've been infected by Darren Naishism!)  But
seriously, aside from Tom's messages on the subject, at least some
people here really ought to read the Nature paper that Bob Tuck told
us about (also last month).  If you have access to Science on-line,
you can see a short piece about it (and the inaptness of Cope's
"Rule") in a "Random Sample":

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/vol275/issue5298/r-samples.shtml

The article seems to have fallen through the cracks in Nature's
web-site (it's not old enough to be in their most recent index, but
it's too old to be listed in the contents of the last four issues).
That being the case I can't tell you the exact reference, but it
should be in the January 16th issue.  Everybody make a note of it and
pick out that article when you're going for the Sinosauropteryx
article that's supposed to be out soon... 

In the mean time I'll quote Doug Erwin (who was quoted in the Science
bit mentioned above):

"The world is more complicated than Cope imagined," [...] "It's easy
to believe you see a trend; it's much more difficult to show one
exists."

--
Mickey Rowe     (mrowe@indiana.edu)