Primate Origins: Implications of a Cretaceous AncestryMartin R.D.a · Soligo C.c · Tavaré S.b, d
aAnthropology Department, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, Ill., and bDepartment of Biological Sciences, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, Calif., USA; cDepartment of Anthropology, University College London, London, and dDepartment of Oncology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
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It has long been accepted that the adaptive radiation of modern placental mammals, like that of modern birds, did not begin until after the Cretaceous/Tertiary (K/T) boundary 65 million years (Ma) ago, following the extinction of the dinosaurs. The first undoubted fossil relatives of modern primates appear in the record 55 Ma ago. However, in agreement with evidence from molecular phylogenies calibrated with dates from denser parts of the fossil record, a statistical analysis of the primate record allowing for major gaps now indicates a Cretaceous origin of euprimates 80–90 Ma ago. If this interpretation is correct, primates overlapped with dinosaurs by some 20 Ma prior to the K/T boundary, and the initial radiation of primates was probably truncated as part of the major extinction event that occurred at the end of the Cretaceous. Following a review of evidence for an early origin of primates, implications of this are discussed with respect to the likely ancestral condition for primates, including a southern continental area of origin and moderately large body size. The known early Tertiary primates are re-interpreted as northern continental offshoots of a ‘second wave’ of primate evolution.
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