Earliest and first Northern Hemispheric hoatzin fossils substantiate Old World origin of a “Neotropic endemic”
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The recent identification of hoatzins (Opisthocomiformes) in the Miocene of Africa showed part of the evolution of these birds, which are now only found in South America, to have taken place outside the Neotropic region. Here, we describe a new fossil species from the late Eocene of France, which constitutes the earliest fossil record of hoatzins and the first one from the Northern Hemisphere. Protoazin parisiensis gen. et sp. nov. is more closely related to South American Opisthocomiformes than the African taxon Namibiavis and substantiates an Old World origin of hoatzins, as well as a relictual distribution of the single extant species. Although recognition of hoatzins in Europe may challenge their presumed transatlantic dispersal, there are still no North American fossils in support of an alternative, Northern Hemispheric, dispersal route. In addition to Opisthocomiformes, other avian taxa are known from the Cenozoic of Europe, the extant representatives of which are only found in South America. Recognition of hoatzins in the early Cenozoic of Europe is of particular significance because Opisthocomiformes have a fossil record in sub-Saharan Africa, which supports the hypothesis that extinction of at least some of these “South American” groups outside the Neotropic region was not primarily due to climatic factors.