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You are here: Home / Library / RBINS Staff Publications 2019 / First virtual endocasts of two Paleocene arctocyonids: a glimpse into the behavior of early placental mammals after the end-Cretaceous extinction

Ornella Bertrand, Stephen Brusatte, Sarah Shelley, John R. Wible, Thomas E. Williamson, Luke T. Holbrook, Stephen G. Chester, Thierry smith and Ian B. Butler (2019)

First virtual endocasts of two Paleocene arctocyonids: a glimpse into the behavior of early placental mammals after the end-Cretaceous extinction

In: SVP 2019 Annual Meeting - October 9-12, Brisbane, Australia, vol. Meeting Program, pp. 63, Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Placentals are by far the most diverse group of mammals today, with 6,111 species. They occupy a plethora of ecological niches worldwide and display a broad range of body masses. The vacant niches left by non-avian dinosaurs and other vertebrates after the end-Cretaceous mass extinction provided a crucial opportunity for placentals to diversify; however, intrinsic factors also may have played a role. The general neurosensory organization exhibited by extant mammals has been maintained since the early Mesozoic. Much later, early members of extant placental groups from the Eocene and Oligocene including rodents, primates and artiodactyls—display neurosensory innovations such as a proportionally larger neocortex and higher encephalization quotient compared to their Mesozoic ancestors. However, between these two well-known intervals of mammalian neurosensory evolution, there is a gap: few studies have focused on the brains of the oldest placentals living during the early Paleogene, in the Paleocene. We focus on the ‘Arctocyonidae’, a likely polyphyletic group of ‘condylarths’, including species potentially implicated in the origins of some extant orders. ‘Arctocyonids’ were among the first placentals to diversify after the end-Cretaceous extinction. They have been reconstructed as small-tomedium sized, mainly omnivorous and terrestrial. We obtained cranial and bony labyrinth endocasts for Chriacus baldwini and C. pelvidens from the lower Paleocene of the San Juan Basin, New Mexico, and Arctocyon primaevus from the upper Paleocene of the Paris Basin, France, via high resolution computed tomography. Both share plesiomorphic brain features with previously described early Paleocene mammals. They have small lissencephalic brains with an EQ range of 0.12-0.43 and 0.16-0.31, respectively. The olfactory bulbs and the paraflocculi represent 6% and less than 1% of the total endocranial volume, respectively and the neocortical height ratio represents ~25% of the total endocranial height. Based on cochlear measurements, both taxa had hearing capabilities similar to those of extant wild boars. Agility scores between 2 and 3 were obtained for both taxa, similar to the modern American badger and crab-eating raccoon, suggesting that C. pelvidens and A. primaevus were ambulatory. These results support growing evidence that early placentals had lower EQs and less expanded neocortices compared to Eocene and later taxa, potentially indicating that high intelligence was not key to the placental radiation after the End-Cretaceous extinction. Grant Information: Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions: Individual Fellowship, European Research Council Starting Grant, National Science Foundation, and Belgian Science Policy Office.
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