An exploration of our Earth's ever-captivating fauna through musings on the bizarre side of Zoology, Cryptozoology, Paleontology, and Paleoanthropology

Sunday, February 8, 2015

New Fossils Reveal The Mother Continent for South American Monkeys

Illustration of Perupithecus ucayaliensis by Jorge González
Arguably one of the best nicknames for the continent Africa is that of 'The Mother Continent', a name owing to the fact that our own Mitochondrial Eve can be traced to this location. However, Homo sapiens was not the only primate species to derive out of Africa. A paper recently published in the journal Nature has revealed new fossil material which sheds light on the origins of South America’s iconic monkey species. In 2010, a team of paleontologists led by Los Angeles County Natural History Museum curator Dr. Ken Campbell uncovered the teeth of three novel extinct primates in the east Peruvian Amazon. The first specimen took two years to identify as a result of its anatomy being distinct from that of modern day South American monkeys, the platyrrhines. The date of this species was traced to the Eocene epoch approximately 36 million years ago, making it ten million years older than any other fossil platyrrhine known. As a result, the newly named Perupithecus ucayaliensis is considered by scientists as a significant piece of the puzzle that is the evolutionary history of South American monkeys.The roughly squirrel-sized Perupithecus was clearly a striking find for Dr. Campbell and his team, but even greater implications surfaced in the similar characteristics which this primate’s molars share with those of primitive African monkeys rather than modern South American species. Along with this comparative anatomy, phylogenetic analyses conducted for the Nature paper imply an African ancestry for New World Monkeys as a whole. The hypothesis of a transatlantic origin has been long-held yet controversial among primatologists, with the recent Peruvian discoveries serving as important supporting data. Still, questions remain as to how this dispersion across the Atlantic Ocean would have occurred, the most prominent suggestion being via rafts of vegetation. Further efforts in understanding the evolutionary history of these South American primates and other Peruvian fauna as well will hopefully lead towards solving this paleozoological riddle. In turn, knowledge regarding the past of these remarkable primates may well assist in the appreciation and preservation of their current ecology.
Graphic illustrating the similarities Perupithecus shares with Eocene African monkeys such as Talahpithecus parvus, a resemblance strongly suggesting an Africa to South America dispersal. (Source)
For referenced information, see paper linked above as well as the links here and here.

2 comments:

  1. It is extremely interesting as to how the species crossed the Atlantic, especially since the distance between Africa and South America is almost 10 000km. The theory of vegetation rafts seems like it could be problematic as they would have to be very strong and advanced to withstand the ocean. Unless I have understood incorrectly.
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