New fossil sheds light on origins of carnivorous mammals The progenitor species, called Dormaalocyon latouri, had been found at the Belgian locality of Dormaal.
Science Recorder | Jonathan Marker | Tuesday, January 07, 2014
A recent study focusing on the discovery of new fossils from Belgium clarifies the origin of some of the most well-known modern mammals, described in the latest issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, in an article entitled, “ Dental And Tarsal Anatomy Of ‘Miacis’ Latouri And A Phylogenetic Analysis Of The Earliest Carnivoraforms (Mammalia, Carnivoramorpha).” The study discusses the origins of “carnivoraformes,” which trace their ancestry to primitive carnivorous mammals dating back to 55 million years ago, a time period known as the Eocene.
The progenitor species, called Dormaalocyon latouri, had been found at the Belgian locality of Dormaal. New specimens discovered by lead author Floréal Solé and his colleagues, permit a better classification of the animal, and its placement in the evolutionary history of carnivores.
“Its description allows better understanding of the origination, variability and ecology of the earliest carnivoraforms,” said Solé.
The new specimens consist of over 250 teeth and anklebones. These additional teeth permit a description of the entire tooth row of Dormaalocyon, whereas previous finds only included two upper molars. The new finds also include the deciduous teeth, and their very primitive look denotes that Dormaalocyon is close to the origin of carnivoraforms, and that this origin may have been in Europe.
The anklebones advance the idea that Dormaalocyon was arboreal. Earlier reconstructions of the environment at Dormaal of 55 million years ago described a warm, humid, and wooded area, a time soon after an event called the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (or PETM). Even though the fossils are close to the origin of carnivoraforms, the finds suggest there were even more primitive species in the group in an earlier time period, the Paleocene.
“The understanding of the origination of the carnivoraforms is important for reconstructing the adaptation of placental mammals to carnivorous diet,” said Solé. “Therefore, Dormaalocyon provides information concerning the evolution of placental mammals after the disappearance of the largest dinosaurs (at the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event). Our study shows that the carnivoraforms were very diversified at the earliest Eocene, which allows hypothesizing that they were probably already diversified during the latest Paleocene.”
So what does this hold for the future discoveries? The researchers say that there are more fossils out there to be found that can answer the question of the origin of this cherished modern group, which of course includes dogs and cats.
Ankle bones and teeth, including baby teeth, from Dormaalocyon.