Ancient collagen reveals evolutionary history of the endemic South American ‘ungulates’

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    Since the late eighteenth century, fossils of bizarre extinct creatures have been described from the Americas, revealing a previously unimagined chapter in the history of mammals. The most bizarre of these are the ‘native’ South American ungulates thought to represent a group of mammals that evolved in relative isolation on South America, but with an uncertain affinity to any particular placental lineage. Many authors have considered them descended from Laurasian ‘condylarths’, which also includes the probable ancestors of perissodactyls and artiodactyls, whereas others have placed them either closer to the uniquely South American xenarthrans (anteaters, armadillos and sloths) or the basal afrotherians (e.g. elephants and hyraxes). These hypotheses have been debated owing to conflicting morphological characteristics and the hitherto inability to retrieve molecular information. Of the ‘native’ South American mammals, only the toxodonts and litopterns persisted until the Late Pleistocene–Early Holocene. Owing to known difficulties in retrieving ancient DNA (aDNA) from specimens from warm climates, this research presents a molecular phylogeny for both Macrauchenia patachonica (Litopterna) and Toxodon platensis (Notoungulata) recovered using proteomics-based (liquid chromatography–tandem mass spectrometry) sequencing analyses of bone collagen. The results place both taxa in a clade that is monophyletic with the perissodactyls, which today are represented by horses, rhinoceroses and tapirs.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number20142671
    JournalRoyal Society of London. Proceedings B. Biological Sciences
    Issue number1806
    Publication statusPublished - 7 May 2015


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