the 47-million-year-old Darwinius masillae fossil that was celebrated last year as a so-called 'missing link' between humans and early primates is actually a forebearer of modern-day lemurs and lorises, according to two papers in the Journal of Human Evolution and PNAS.
Researchers note in one article published in the Journal of Human Evolution that Darwinius masillae is not a haplorhine primate like humans, apes and monkeys, as the 2009 research claimed. They also note that the article on Darwinius published last year ignores two decades of published research showing that similar fossils are actually strepsirrhines, the primate group that includes lemurs and lorises.
"Many lines of evidence indicate that Darwinius has nothing at all to do with human evolution," says Chris Kirk, associate professor of anthropology at The University of Texas at Austin. "Every year, scientists describe new fossils that contribute to our understanding of primate evolution. What's amazing about Darwinius is, despite the fact that it's nearly complete, it tells us very little that we didn't already know from fossils of closely related species."
Last spring's much-publicized article on Darwinius was released in conjunction with a book, a History Channel documentary, and an exhibit in the American Museum of Natural History. At a news conference attended by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the authors unveiled the nearly complete fossil of a nine-month-old female primate that had been found at the site of Messel in Germany.
But other anthropologists were immediately skeptical of the conclusions and began writing the responses that are being published this month.
"Just because it's a complete and well-preserved fossil doesn't mean it's going to overthrow all our ideas," says Williams, the lead author. "There's this enormous body of literature that has built up over the years. The Darwinius research completely ignored that body of literature."
That literature centers on the evolution of primates, which include haplorhines (apes, monkeys, humans, tarsiers) and strepsirrhines (lemurs, lorises). The two groups split from each other nearly 70 million years ago.
The fossil group to which Darwinius belongs – the adapiforms – have been known since the early 1800s and includes dozens of primate species represented by thousands of fossils recovered in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Some adapiforms, like North American Notharctus, are known from nearly complete skeletons like that of Darwinius. Most analyses of primate evolution over the past two decades have concluded that adapiforms are strepsirrhines, and not direct ancestors of modern humans.
The most recent such analysis, published last year in Nature, concluded that Darwinius is an early strepsirrhine and a close relative of the 39-million-year- old primate Mahgarita stevensi from West Texas.
Nevertheless, the scientists who last year formally described Darwinius concluded that it was an early haplorhine, and even suggested that Darwinius and other adapiform fossils "could represent a stem group from which later anthropoid primates evolved."
For example, they note that Darwinius has a short snout and a deep jaw – two features that are found in monkeys, apes, and humans.
However, other experts argue that short snouts and deep jaws are known to have evolved multiple times among primates, including several times within the lemur/loris lineage. They further argue that Darwinius lacks most of the key anatomical features that could demonstrate a close evolutionary relationship with living haplorhines (apes, monkeys, humans, and tarsiers).
For instance, haplorhines have a middle ear with two chambers and a plate of bone that shields the eyes from the chewing muscles.
"There is no evidence that Darwinius shared these features with living haplorhines," says Kirk. "And if you can't even make that case, you can forget about Darwinius being a close relative of humans or other anthropoids."
Citation: Williams et al., 'Darwinius masillae is a strepsirrhine—a reply to Franzen et al. (2009)', Journal of Human Evolution, March 2010; doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2010.01.003 (In Press)
- PHYSICAL SCIENCES
- EARTH SCIENCES
- LIFE SCIENCES
- SOCIAL SCIENCES
Subscribe to the newsletter
Stay in touch with the scientific world!
Know Science And Want To Write?
- Researchers Created A Laser Bullet To See What It Would Look Like - And Here It Is
- The Strange Organic Molecules In Titan's Atmosphere
- Will Holding Thermal Printer Paper Really Send Your BPA Levels Soaring?
- The Quote Of The Week - Shocked And Disappointed
- How Gut Bacteria Ensure A Healthy Brain – and Could Play A Role In Treating Depression
- As The Weather Changes, So Do Beliefs About Climate Change
- Moderate Pot Use By Adolescents Doesn't Hurt IQ
- "I see. One must have an expensive Mac to be able to use the software for free...."
- "Also, why do you assume a person seeking coverage needs to take off work? People in need of assistance..."
- "According to this article, the report was not about the accuracy of the website. It was a survey..."
- "Well how about you make some logically reasonable statements. My post was simply pointing out the..."
- "Okay, I understand your point now, but a human meeting another human is still a lot more costly..."
- US Ebola hysteria and money pit highlight lack of resources to confront diseases that kill far more people
- Addiction can be measured by epigenetics
- Coffee grounds turned biofuel can heat your home
- Bill and Melinda Gates on GMOs: ‘Poor farmers should not be denied choice of life-saving tools’
- Why do foodies love organics? Because they taste like McDonald’s!
- GMO milk? An enviros dream innovation that most enviros oppose
- Experimental breast cancer drug holds promise in combination therapy for Ewing sarcoma
- Desert streams: Deceptively simple
- UT Southwestern scientists discover new clues to how weight loss is regulated
- Gene that once aided survival in the Arctic found to have negative impact on health today
- Genomic data support early contact between Easter Island and Americas