, Volume 98, Issue 10, pp 815-823
Date: 28 Aug 2011

A Phororhacoid bird from the Eocene of Africa

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Abstract

The bird fossil record is globally scarce in Africa. The early Tertiary evolution of terrestrial birds is virtually unknown in that continent. Here, we report on a femur of a large terrestrial new genus discovered from the early or early middle Eocene (between ∼52 and 46 Ma) of south-western Algeria. This femur shows all the morphological features of the Phororhacoidea, the so-called Terror Birds. Most of the phororhacoids were indeed large, or even gigantic, flightless predators or scavengers with no close modern analogs. It is likely that this extinct group originated in South America, where they are known from the late Paleocene to the late Pleistocene (∼59 to 0.01 Ma). The presence of a phororhacoid bird in Africa cannot be explained by a vicariant mechanism because these birds first appeared in South America well after the onset of the mid-Cretaceous Gondwana break up (∼100 million years old). Here, we propose two hypotheses to account for this occurrence, either an early dispersal of small members of this group, which were still able of a limited flight, or a transoceanic migration of flightless birds from South America to Africa during the Paleocene or earliest Eocene. Paleogeographic reconstructions of the South Atlantic Ocean suggest the existence of several islands of considerable size between South America and Africa during the early Tertiary, which could have helped a transatlantic dispersal of phororhacoids.

Communicated by: Robert Reisz