Jordan W. Crowell, John R. Wible, Stephen G. B. Chester

Basicranial evidence suggests picrodontid mammals are not stem primates

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)

The Picrodontidae from the middle Palaeocene of North America are enigmatic placental mammals that were allied with various mammalian groups but are generally now considered to have close affinities to paromomyid and palaechthonid plesiadapiforms based on proposed dental synapomorphies. The picrodontid fossil record consists entirely of dental and gnathic remains except for one partial cranium of Zanycteris paleocenus (AMNH 17180). Here, we use µCT technology to unveil previously undocumented morphology in AMNH 17180, describe and compare the basicranial morphology of a picrodontid for the first time, and incorporate these new data into cladistic analyses. The basicranial morphology of Z. paleocenus is distinct from plesiadapiforms and shares similarities with the Palaeogene Apatemyidae and Nyctitheriidae. Results of cladistic analyses incorporating these novel data suggest picrodontids are not stem primates nor euarchontan mammals and that the proposed dental synapomorphies uniting picrodontids with plesiadapiforms and, by extension, primates evolved independently. Results highlight the need to scrutinize proposed synapomorphies of highly autapomorphic taxa with limited fossil records.

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