Monday, 24 November 2014

Fossils Suggest Ancestor Of Horses, Rhinos Originated On The Asian Subcontinent While It Was Still An Island

Provided by Shawna Williams, Johns Hopkins Medicine

Working at the edge of a coal mine in India, a team of Johns Hopkins researchers and colleagues have filled in a major gap in science’s understanding of the evolution of a group of animals that includes horses and rhinos. That group likely originated on the subcontinent when it was still an island headed swiftly for collision with Asia, the researchers reported Nov. 20 in the online journal Nature Communications.

Modern horses, rhinos and tapirs belong to a biological group, or order, called Perissodactyla. Also known as “odd-toed ungulates,” animals in the order have, as their name implies, an uneven number of toes on their hind feet and a distinctive digestive system. Though paleontologists had found remains of Perissodactyla from as far back as the beginnings of the Eocene epoch, about 56 million years ago, their earlier evolution remained a mystery, says Ken Rose, Ph.D., a professor of functional anatomy and evolution at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Rose and his research team have for years been excavating mammal fossils in the Bighorn Basin of Wyoming, but in 2001 he and Indian colleagues began exploring Eocene sediments in Western India because it had been proposed that perissodactyls and some other mammal groups might have originated there. In an open-pit coal mine northeast of Mumbai, they uncovered a rich vein of ancient bones. Rose says he and his collaborators obtained funding from the National Geographic Society to send a research team to the mine site at Gujarat in the far Western part of India for two weeks at a time once every year or two over the last decade.


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