Journal of Mammalian Evolution

, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp 221–235 | Cite as

Hyperspecialization in Some South American Endemic Ungulates Revealed by Long Bone Microstructure

  • Alexandra Houssaye
  • Vincent Fernandez
  • Guillaume Billet
Original Paper


Adaptation to aquatic or semi-aquatic habits has been demonstrated in several distantly related mammalian clades worldwide during the Cenozoic, but curiously none has been conclusively evidenced inland for South America although a few South American native ungulates (SANU) have been proposed as possible subaquatic taxa. These taxa mostly correspond to large-sized herbivorous forms among astrapotheres, pyrotheres, and some toxodontid notoungulates, found at the end of the Paleogene and/or beginning of the Neogene. As no clear argument was provided for these ecological hypotheses, an analysis of the microanatomical features of long bones of some of these taxa in a comparative context was conducted in order to address the question of the paleoecology of these organisms. Our study highlights a variety of osseous specializations in the stylopod bones of SANU, and notably that Parastrapotherium, Pyrotherium, and Nesodon are affected by bone mass increase. If the microanatomical features of Parastrapotherium and Nesodon evoke what is observed in some terrestrial or semi-aquatic graviportal taxa, the very high compactness of Pyrotherium suggests extreme functional requirements in this taxon such as a graviportal hyperspecialization. This study thus evidences the occurrence of several convergent adaptations to graviportality and/or subaquatic habits within SANU and contributes to an important step towards a better integration of South American endemic mammals in large-scaled paleoecological studies.


Bone mass increase Graviportality Microanatomy Ungulates South America 



South American endemic native ungulates



We warmly thank C. Lefèvre, J. Lesur, V. Pernègre, and C. Argot (Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, Paris, France), C. Norris, D. Brinkman, and M. Fox (Yale Peabody Museum, New Haven, USA) for the loan and packing of specimens, J.R. Hutchinson (Royal Veterinary College, London, United Kingdom) for the loan of some scans, Y Nakajima (Bonn Universität, Germany) for the loan of some sections, A. Kramarz (Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales, Buenos Aires, Argentina) for helpful comments on astrapothere temporal distribution, and R. Cornette for fruitful advice with statistics. We thank the Steinmann Institut (University of Bonn, Germany) and the ESRF (Grenoble, France) for providing beamtime and support, the ESRF in the framework of the proposal ES-223 on the beamline ID17, UMS 2700 outils et méthodes de la systématique integrative CNRS-MNHN and AST-RX, Plateau technique d’accès scientifique à la tomographie à rayons X du MNHN, M. García-Sanz for performing the scans and reconstructions at the AST-RX platform (MNHN, Paris, France), P. Tafforeau for his help while performing the scans at the ESRF, and UMR 7207 CR2P MNHN CNRS UPMC-Paris6 for 3D imaging facilities. We warmly thank H. Woodward (Oklahoma State University, USA) and an anonymous reviewer for fruitful comments that improved our manuscript, and J.R. Wible for editorial work. A.H. acknowledges financial support from the ANR-13-PDOC-001 and the A. v. Humboldt Foundation.

Compliance with ethical standards

Authors’ Contributions

AH and G.B designed the study. AH, GB and VF participated to the data acquisition. AH conducted the analyses. AH and GB drafted the manuscript. All authors contributed to the final manuscript, read it and approved it.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexandra Houssaye
    • 1
  • Vincent Fernandez
    • 2
  • Guillaume Billet
    • 3
  1. 1.Département Ecologie et Gestion de la BiodiversitéUMR 7179 CNRS/Muséum National d’Histoire NaturelleParisFrance
  2. 2.European Synchrotron Radiation FacilityGrenobleFrance
  3. 3.CR2P, UMR CNRS 7207, CP 38, Muséum national d’Histoire naturelleParisFrance

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