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You are here: Home / Library / RBINS Staff Publications 2020 / Phylogenetic position of Olbitherium (Mammalia, Perissodactyla) based on new material from the early Eocene Wutu Formation

Luke T. Holbrook, Cheng-Sen Li, Jian Yang and Thierry Smith (2020)

Phylogenetic position of Olbitherium (Mammalia, Perissodactyla) based on new material from the early Eocene Wutu Formation

In: The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, 80th Annual Meeting - Virtual 2020 - October 12-16, Conference Program, pp. 176-177, Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

The genus Olbitherium was originally described in 2004 from the early Eocene of the Wutu Formation in China as a ‘perissodactyl-like’ archaic ungulate. Described material of Olbitherium consists of partial dentaries with lower cheek teeth, isolated upper molars, and an isolated upper premolar. Subsequent collaborative fieldwork by Belgian and Chinese researchers discovered new material including a partial skull, the anterior portion of the dentary, and associated postcrania. In their general form, the skull and postcrania are similar to those of early perissodactyls. The new material provides a more complete picture of the upper dentition, and the anterior dentary demonstrates the presence of three lower incisors and a large canine, both ancestral features for perissodactyls. A phylogenetic analysis was conducted to test the affinities of Olbitherium, using a matrix of 321 characters and 72 taxa of placental mammals emphasizing perissodactyls and other ungulates. The results produced four shortest trees of 1981 steps. In all four trees, Olbitherium is the sister-taxon to all perissodactyls except Ghazijhippus. In contrast, when scoring was restricted to the originally described material, the results produced 16 shortest trees of 1970 steps, and Olbitherium nests well within Perissodactyla as sister-taxon to a clade including Lambdotherium and the brontotheriids Eotitanops and Palaeosyops. The new material not only supports the identification of Olbitherium as a perissodactyl, but it also suggests that it is significant for understanding the ancestral perissodactyl morphotype. Funding Sources U.S. National Science Foundation (DEB1456826), Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology (2009DFA32210), and Belgian Science Policy Office (BL/36/C54).
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Paleontology