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Australia's first fossil marsupial mole (Notoryctemorphia) resolves controversies about their evolution and palaeoenvironmental origins

By Michael Archer, Robin Beck, Miranda Gott, Suzanne Hand, Henk Godthelp and Karen Black


Fossils of a marsupial mole (Marsupialia, Notoryctemorphia, Notoryctidae) are described from early Miocene deposits in the Riversleigh World Heritage Area, northwestern Queensland, Australia. These represent the first unequivocal fossil record of the order Notoryctemorphia, the two living species of which are among the world's most specialized and bizarre mammals, but which are also convergent on certain fossorial placental mammals (most notably chrysochlorid golden moles). The fossil remains are genuinely ‘transitional', documenting an intermediate stage in the acquisition of a number of specializations and showing that one of these—the dental morphology known as zalambdodonty—was acquired via a different evolutionary pathway than in placentals. They, thus, document a clear case of evolutionary convergence (rather than parallelism) between only distantly related and geographically isolated mammalian lineages—marsupial moles on the island continent of Australia and placental moles on most other, at least intermittently connected continents. In contrast to earlier presumptions about a relationship between the highly specialized body form of the blind, earless, burrowing marsupial moles and desert habitats, it is now clear that archaic burrowing marsupial moles were adapted to and probably originated in wet forest palaeoenvironments, preadapting them to movement through drier soils in the xeric environments of Australia that developed during the Neogene

Topics: Research Articles
Publisher: The Royal Society
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