, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp 31-79

Reexamination of the morphological evidence for the cohort Epitheria (Mammalia, Eutheria)

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Abstract

Novacek and co-workers recognized a monophyletic clade Epitheria, comprising all eutherians except edentates and the extinct palaeoryctoids, on the basis of two synapomorphies: a stirrupshaped stapes and a foramen ovale enclosed within the alisphenoid. To evaluate this phylogenetic hypothesis, we reexamined the distributions of stapedial morphologies and positions of the foramen ovale across Recent and extinct mammals and nonmammalian cynodonts. The states and distributions of the stapes and forament ovale characters used by Novacek and coworkers were modified by recognizing two stapedial characters (one relating to shape of the crura, the other to the nature of the foramen) and a single, multistate foramen ovale character (within, behind, and lateral to the alisphenoid). The taxon-character matrix used by Novacek (1989, 1992b), substituting our amended stapedial and foramen ovale characters and adding several previously unscored extinct taxa and three new characters, was subjected to a series of PAUP manipulations. Identified among the most parsimonious trees were three major topologies for the base of Eutheria: (1) a polytomy including an Edentata/Ungulata clade, (2) a polytomy with Edentata and Ungulata as separate clades, and (3) Edentata and (when included) Palaeoryctoidea as the successive outgroups to a monophyletic Epitheria. We conclude that topology 2 best reflects the current state of knowledge. An edentate/ungulate clade is supported by three characters (from the mastoid region and subarcuate fossa); however, other morphological studies require modification of the distributions of these characters in xenarthrans and bassal ungulates, thereby eliminating support for this clade. In nearly all manipulations, obtaining a monophyletic Epitheria required that one or two steps be added to the most parsimonious trees. When a monophyletic Epitheria was obtained, it was supported by a triangular stapes and, in some trees, the reappearance of a stapedial artery (lost earlier at the level of Recent therians) and a transpromontorial internal carotid artery. In the most parsimonious trees, a foramen ovale within the alisphenoid was an equivocal synapomorphy of Recent therians or cutherians, and a stapes with strongly convex crura (our state closest to the stirrup-shaped state of Novacek and co-workers) appeared independently within various eutherian lineages. The reduction or loss of the stapedial foramen was identified as an independent event in monotremes and within marsupials and various eutherian lineages.

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