Australia's oldest marsupial fossils and their biogeographical implications

Robin M.D. Beck, Henk Godthelp, Vera Weisbecker, Michael Archer, Suzanne J. Hand

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

80 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Background: We describe new cranial and post-cranial marsupial fossils from the early Eocene Tingamarra Local Fauna in Australia and refer them to Djarthia murgonensis, which was previosly known only from fragmentary dental remains. Methodology/Principal Findings: The new material indicates that Djarthia is a member of Australidelphia, a pan-Gondwanan clade comprising all extant Australian marsupials together with the South American microbiotheres. Djarthia is therefore the oldest known crown-group marsupial anywhere in the world that is represented by dental, cranial and postcranial remains, and the oldest known Australian marsupial by 30 million years. It is also the most plesiomorphic known australidelphian, and phylogenetic analyses place it outside all other Australian marsupials. Conclusion/Significance: As the most plesiomorphic and oldest unequivocal australidelphian, Djarthia may approximate the ancestral morphotype of the Australian marsupial radiation and suggests that the South American microbiotheres may be the result of back-dispersal from eastern Gondwana, which is the reverse of prevailing hypotheses.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1858
Number of pages8
JournalPLoS One
Volume3
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 26 Mar 2008
Externally publishedYes

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