Description of the Pliocene marsupial Ambulator keanei gen. nov. (Marsupialia: Diprotodontidae) from inland Australia and its locomotory adaptations

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Abstract

Diprotodontids were the largest marsupials to exist and an integral part of Australian terrestrial ecosystems until the last members of the group became extinct approximately 40 000 years ago. Despite the frequency with which diprotodontid remains are encountered, key aspects of their morphology, systematics, ecology and evolutionary history remain poorly understood. Here we describe new skeletal remains of the Pliocene taxon Zygomaturus keanei from northern South Australia. This is only the third partial skeleton of a late Cenozoic diprotodontid described in the last century, and the first displaying soft tissue structures associated with footpad impressions. Whereas it is difficult to distinguish Z. keanei and the type species of the genus, Z. trilobus, on dental grounds, the marked cranial and postcranial differences suggest that Z. keanei warrants genus-level distinction. Accordingly, we place it in the monotypic Ambulator gen. nov. We, also recognize the late Miocene Z. gilli as a nomen dubium. Features of the forelimb, manus and pes reveal that Ambulator keanei was more graviportal with greater adaptation to quadrupedal walking than earlier diprotodontids. These adaptations may have been driven by a need to travel longer distances to obtain resources as open habitats expanded in the late Pliocene of inland Australia.

Original languageEnglish
Article number230211
Number of pages49
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Volume10
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2023

Keywords

  • Australia
  • cranial and postcranial morphology
  • Diprotodontidae
  • fossil marsupials
  • megafauna
  • Pliocene

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