, Volume 99, Issue 9, pp 715–729 | Cite as

An ‘ameridelphian’ marsupial from the early Eocene of Australia supports a complex model of Southern Hemisphere marsupial biogeography

  • Robin M. D. BeckEmail author
Original Paper


Recent molecular data strongly support the monophyly of all extant Australian and New Guinean marsupials (Eomarsupialia) to the exclusion of extant South American marsupials. This, together with available geological and fossil evidence, has been used to argue that the presence of marsupials in Australia is simply the result of a single dispersal event from South America during the latest Cretaceous or Palaeocene, without subsequent dispersals between the two continents. Here, I describe an isolated ankle bone (calcaneus) of a metatherian from the early Eocene Tingamarra Local Fauna in northeastern Australia. Strikingly, this specimen, QM F30060, lacks the ‘continuous lower ankle joint pattern’ (CLAJP), presence of which is a highly distinctive apomorphy of the marsupial clade Australidelphia, which includes Eomarsupialia, the living South American microbiotherian Dromiciops and the Tingamarran fossil marsupial Djarthia. Comparisons with a range of marsupials and stem-metatherians strongly suggest that the absence of the CLAJP in QM F30060 is plesiomorphic, and that this specimen represents the first unequivocal non-australidelphian (‘ameridelphian’) metatherian known from Australia. This interpretation is confirmed by phylogenetic analyses that place QM F30060 within (crown-group) Marsupialia, but outside Australidelphia. Based on these results, the distribution of marsupials within Gondwana cannot be explained by simply a single dispersal event from South America and Australia. Either there were multiple dispersals by marsupials (and possibly also stem-metatherians) between South America and Australia, in one or both directions, or, alternatively, there was a broadly similar metatherian fauna stretching across southern South America, Antarctica and Australia during the Late Cretaceous–early Palaeogene.


Marsupialia Australidelphia Ameridelphia Gondwana Australia Eocene 



American Museum of Natural History Mammalogy collection


University of New South Wales Archer collection




auxiliary calcaneocuboid


distal calcaneocuboid


lateral calcaneocuboid


medial calcaneocuboid


proximal calcaneocuboid


continuous lower ankle joint pattern




Field Museum of Natural History


lower ankle joint






million years ago


Queensland Museum Palaeontology collection


separate lower ankle joint pattern




University of New South Wales



Collection and study of the Tingamarra Local Fauna has been led by Henk Godthelp, Mike Archer and Suzanne Hand at UNSW, who kindly allowed study of the fossil specimen described here. Financial support for R. Beck’s research on the Tingamarra Local Fauna has been provided by the Leverhulme Trust (via Study Abroad Studentship SAS/30110), Phil Creaser and the CREATE fund at the University of New South Wales (via a CREATE scholarship), the National Science Foundation (via grant DEB-0743039, in collaboration with Rob Voss at the AMNH) and the Australian Research Council (via Discovery Early Career Researcher Award DE120100957). Other critical support for research on the Tingamarra Local Fauna has been given by the Australian Research Council (ARC DP0453262 to M. Archer, and ARC LP045366 and LP0989969 to S. Hand) and the University of New South Wales. Christine Argot gave insightful comments on QM F30060, and Lawrence Lawver and Francisco Goin kindly supplied a number of important references. Rob Voss provided some key observations on Mimoperadectes houdei. Mike Archer, Henk Godthelp and Sue Hand provided useful comments and feedback that helped greatly improve this research. I thank the associate editor Rob Asher and three anonymous reviewers for their constructive reviews.

Supplementary material

114_2012_953_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (273 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 273 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biological, Earth and Environmental SciencesUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Department of MammalogyAmerican Museum of Natural HistoryNew YorkUSA

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