, Volume 97, Issue 4, pp 365-377

New postcrania of Deccanolestes from the Late Cretaceous of India and their bearing on the evolutionary and biogeographic history of euarchontan mammals

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Abstract

Extant species of the supraordinal mammal clade Euarchonta belong to the orders Primates, Scandentia, or Dermoptera. The fossil record of euarchontans suggests that they underwent their initial radiation during the Paleocene (65–55 million years ago) in North America, Eurasia, and Africa. The time and place of origin is poorly resolved due to lack of definitive fossils of euarchontan stem taxa. We describe a fragmentary humerus and two fragmentary ulnae from the latest Cretaceous of India that bear significantly on this issue. The fossils are tentatively referred to Deccanolestes cf. hislopi due to their small size and the fact that Deccanolestes is the only eutherian dental taxon to have been recovered from the same locality. The new fossils are used to evaluate the existing behavioral hypothesis that Deccanolestes was arboreal, and the competing phylogenetic hypotheses that Deccanolestes is a stem eutherian versus a stem euarchontan. The humerus resembles those of euarchontans in possessing a laterally keeled ulnar trochlea, a distinct zona conoidea, and a spherical capitulum. These features also suggest an arboreal lifestyle. The ulnar morphology is consistent with that of the humerus in reflecting an arboreal/scansorial animal. Detailed quantitative comparisons indicate that, despite morphological correlates to euarchontan-like arboreality, the humerus of Deccanolestes is morphologically intermediate between those of Cretaceous “condylarthran” mammals and definitive Cenozoic euarchontans. Additionally, humeri attributed to adapisoriculids are morphologically intermediate between those of Deccanolestes and definitive euarchontans. If adapisoriculids are euarchontans, as recently proposed, our results suggest that Deccanolestes is more basal. The tentative identification of Deccanolestes as a basal stem euarchontan suggests that (1) Placentalia began to diversify and Euarchonta originated before the Cretaceous–Tertiary boundary and (2) the Indian subcontinent, Eurasia, and Africa are more likely places of origin for Euarchonta than is North America.