Matthew J. Phillips & Carmelo Fruciano (2018)
The soft explosive model of placental mammal evolution.
BMC Evolutionary Biology 18:104Â
Recent molecular dating estimates for placental mammals echo fossil inferences for an explosive interordinal diversification, but typically place this event some 10â20 million years earlier than the Paleocene fossils, among apparently more âprimitiveâ mammal faunas.
However, current models of molecular evolution do not adequately account for parallel rate changes, and result in dramatic divergence underestimates for large, long-lived mammals such as whales and hominids. Calibrating among these taxa shifts the rate model errors deeper in the tree, inflating interordinal divergence estimates. We employ simulations based on empirical rate variation, which show that this âerror-shift inflationâ can explain previous molecular dating overestimates relative to fossil inferences. Molecular dating accuracy is substantially improved in the simulations by focusing on calibrations for taxa that retain plesiomorphic life-history characteristics. Applying this strategy to the empirical data favours the soft explosive model of placental evolution, in line with traditional palaeontological interpretations â a few Cretaceous placental lineages give rise to a rapid interordinal diversification following the 66 Ma Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary mass extinction.
Our soft explosive model for the diversification of placental mammals brings into agreement previously incongruous molecular, fossil, and ancestral life history estimates, and closely aligns with a growing consensus for a similar model for bird evolution. We show that recent criticism of the soft explosive model relies on ignoring both experimental controls and statistical confidence, as well as misrepresentation, and inconsistent interpretations of morphological phylogeny. More generally, we suggest that the evolutionary properties of adaptive radiations may leave current molecular dating methods susceptible to overestimating the timing of major diversification events.
Virag Sharma, Thomas Lehmann, Heiko Stuckas, Liane Funke &Â Michael Hiller (2018)
Loss of RXFP2 and INSL3 genes in Afrotheria shows that testicular descent is the ancestral condition in placental mammals.Â
PLoS Biology 16(6): e2005293.
Descent of testes from a position near the kidneys into the lower abdomen or into the scrotum is an important developmental process that occurs in all placental mammals, with the exception of five afrotherian lineages. Since soft-tissue structures like testes are not preserved in the fossil record and since key parts of the placental mammal phylogeny remain controversial, it has been debated whether testicular descent is the ancestral or derived condition in placental mammals. To resolve this debate, we used genomic data of 71 mammalian species and analyzed the evolution of two key genes (relaxin/insulin-like family peptide receptor 2 [RXFP2] and insulin-like 3 [INSL3]) that induce the development of the gubernaculum, the ligament that is crucial for testicular descent. We show that both RXFP2 and INSL3 are lost or nonfunctional exclusively in four afrotherians (tenrec, cape elephant shrew, cape golden mole, and manatee) that completely lack testicular descent. The presence of remnants of once functional orthologs of both genes in these afrotherian species shows that these gene losses happened after the split from the placental mammal ancestor. These âmolecular vestigesâ provide strong evidence that testicular descent is the ancestral condition, irrespective of persisting phylogenetic discrepancies. Furthermore, the absence of shared gene-inactivating mutations and our estimates that the loss of RXFP2 happened at different time points strongly suggest that testicular descent was lost independently in Afrotheria. Our results provide a molecular mechanism that explains the loss of testicular descent in afrotherians and, more generally, highlight how molecular vestiges can provide insights into the evolution of soft-tissue characters.
While fossils of whales with legs demonstrate that these species evolved from legged ancestors, the ancestral state of nonfossilizing soft-tissue structures can only be indirectly inferred. This difficulty is also confounded by uncertainties in the phylogenetic relationships between the animals concerned. A prime example is the case of testicular descent, a developmental process that determines the final position of testes, which occurs in most placental mammals but is absent from several afrotherian lineages. Here, we discovered that afrotherians possess remnants of genes known to be required for testicular descent. These âmolecular vestigesâ show that testicular descent was already present in the placental ancestor and was subsequently lost in Afrotheria. Our study highlights the potential of molecular vestiges in resolving contradictory ancestral states of soft-tissue characters.
John J. Flynn (2018)
Body mass predicts isotope enrichment in herbivorous mammals.
Proceedings of the Royal Society B 285 20181020
Carbon isotopic signatures recorded in vertebrate tissues derive from ingested food and thus reflect ecologies and ecosystems. For almost two decades, most carbon isotope-based ecological interpretations of extant and extinct herbivorous mammals have used a single dietâbioapatite enrichment value (14â). Assuming this single value applies to all herbivorous mammals, from tiny monkeys to giant elephants, it overlooks potential effects of distinct physiological and metabolic processes on carbon fractionation. By analysing a never before assessed herbivorous group spanning a broad range of body massesâslothsâwe discovered considerable variation in dietâbioapatite Î13C enrichment among mammals. Statistical tests (ordinary least squares, quantile, robust regressions, Akaike information criterion model tests) document independence from phylogeny, and a previously unrecognized strong and significant correlation of Î13C enrichment with body mass for all mammalian herbivores. A single-factor body mass model outperforms all other single-factor or more complex combinatorial models evaluated, including for physiological variables (metabolic rate and body temperature proxies), and indicates that body mass alone predicts Î13C enrichment. These analyses, spanning more than 5 orders of magnitude of body sizes, yield a size-dependent prediction of isotopic enrichment across Mammalia and for distinct digestive physiologies, permitting reconstruction of foregut versus hindgut fermentation for fossils and refined mean annual palaeoprecipitation estimates based on Î13C of mammalian bioapatite.
CristiÃn GutiÃrrez-IbÃÃez, Andrew N. Iwaniuk & Douglas R. Wylie (2018)
Parrots have evolved a primate-like telencephalic-midbrain-cerebellar circuit
Scientific Reports 8, Article number: 9960Â
It is widely accepted that parrots show remarkable cognitive abilities. In mammals, the evolution of complex cognitive abilities is associated with increases in the size of the telencephalon and cerebellum as well as the pontine nuclei, which connect these two regions. Parrots have relatively large telencephalons that rival those of primates, but whether there are also evolutionary changes in their telencephalon-cerebellar relay nuclei is unknown. Like mammals, birds have two brainstem pontine nuclei that project to the cerebellum and receive projections from the telencephalon. Unlike mammals, birds also have a pretectal nucleus that connects the telencephalon with the cerebellum: the medial spiriform nucleus (SpM). We found that SpM, but not the pontine nuclei, is greatly enlarged in parrots and its relative size significantly correlated with the relative size of the telencephalon across all birds. This suggests that the telencephalon-SpM-cerebellar pathway of birds may play an analogous role to cortico-ponto-cerebellar pathways of mammals in controlling fine motor skills and complex cognitive processes. We conclude that SpM is key to understanding the role of telencephalon-cerebellar pathways in the evolution of complex cognitive abilities in birds.