The Phylogenetic Affinities of the Enigmatic Mammalian Clade Gondwanatheria
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- Gurovich, Y. & Beck, R. J Mammal Evol (2009) 16: 25. doi:10.1007/s10914-008-9097-3
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Gondwanatheria is a group of extinct mammals known from the Cretaceous and Paleogene of Gondwana. Resolution of the phylogenetic affinities of gondwanatherians has proven problematical, with the group currently considered Mammalia incertae sedis. We briefly review the morphology of known gondwanatherians, and argue that isolated upper premolars and a partial dentary preserving a blade-like p4 originally referred to the ferugliotheriid gondwanatherian Ferugliotherium windhauseni but subsequently identified as Multituberculata incertae sedis do indeed belong to F. windhauseni. We also suggest that the recently described ?cimolodontan multituberculate Argentodites coloniensis, based on an isolated lower premolar, may in fact be an unworn p4 of Ferugliotherium or a closely related taxon. We present the first phylogenetic analyses to include gondwanatherians, using maximum parsimony and Bayesian methods. Both methods place Ferugliotherium and sudamericid gondwanatherians in a clade with cimolodontan and “plagiaulacidan” multituberculates, although relationships within this clade are largely unresolved. The Gondwanatheria + Multituberculata clade supported here may reflect the convergent evolution of similar dental features, but it is the best supported hypothesis based on currently available data. However, denser sampling of multituberculate taxa and the discovery of more complete gondwanatherian fossils will be required to clarify the precise relationship between gondwanatherians and multituberculates, specifically to determine whether or not gondwanatherians are members of Multituberculata. We hypothesize that the anterior molariforms of sudamericid gondwanatherians evolved from blade-like precursors similar to the p4 of Ferugliotherium, possibly in response to the appearance of grasses in Gondwana during the Cretaceous.