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Complete primate skeleton from the Middle Eocene of Messel in Germany: morphology and paleobiology.

Franzen JL, Gingerich PD, Habersetzer J, Hurum JH, von Koenigswald W, Smith BH - PLoS ONE (2009)

Bottom Line: Darwinius masillae represents the most complete fossil primate ever found, including both skeleton, soft body outline and contents of the digestive tract.Study of all these features allows a fairly complete reconstruction of life history, locomotion, and diet.Any future study of Eocene-Oligocene primates should benefit from information preserved in the Darwinius holotype.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg, Frankfurt, Germany.

ABSTRACT

Background: The best European locality for complete Eocene mammal skeletons is Grube Messel, near Darmstadt, Germany. Although the site was surrounded by a para-tropical rain forest in the Eocene, primates are remarkably rare there, and only eight fragmentary specimens were known until now. Messel has now yielded a full primate skeleton. The specimen has an unusual history: it was privately collected and sold in two parts, with only the lesser part previously known. The second part, which has just come to light, shows the skeleton to be the most complete primate known in the fossil record.

Methodology/principal findings: We describe the morphology and investigate the paleobiology of the skeleton. The specimen is described as Darwinius masillae n.gen. n.sp. belonging to the Cercamoniinae. Because the skeleton is lightly crushed and bones cannot be handled individually, imaging studies are of particular importance. Skull radiography shows a host of teeth developing within the juvenile face. Investigation of growth and proportion suggest that the individual was a weaned and independent-feeding female that died in her first year of life, and might have attained a body weight of 650-900 g had she lived to adulthood. She was an agile, nail-bearing, generalized arboreal quadruped living above the floor of the Messel rain forest.

Conclusions/significance: Darwinius masillae represents the most complete fossil primate ever found, including both skeleton, soft body outline and contents of the digestive tract. Study of all these features allows a fairly complete reconstruction of life history, locomotion, and diet. Any future study of Eocene-Oligocene primates should benefit from information preserved in the Darwinius holotype. Of particular importance to phylogenetic studies, the absence of a toilet claw and a toothcomb demonstrates that Darwinius masillae is not simply a fossil lemur, but part of a larger group of primates, Adapoidea, representative of the early haplorhine diversification.

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Radiographic comparison of middle Eocene primates from Geiseltal in eastern Germany.(A)— Europolemur klatti (Weigelt, 1933), GMH CeIV-3656, left and right mandible with I1–2, C1, P2-M3d and I1–2, C1, P3-M3s. (B)— Europolemur klatti (Weigelt, 1933), GMH LeoI-4233, part of the skull with upper dentition, which is part of the holotype. (C)— Europolemur klatti (Weigelt, 1933), GMH XXXVII-120, fragmentary left mandible with double-rooted P2, P3–4, and heavily worn M1–3. (D)— Europolemur klatti (Weigelt, 1933), GMH XXII-1, right mandibular ramus with P3-M3 and alveoli for a double rooted P2. (E)— Protoadapis ignoratus (Thalmann, 1994), GMH XXII-549, part of type specimen, fragment of right mandible with C1, P3–4, M1, alveoli of P2 and M3 (mirrored). (F)— Protoadapis weigelti Gingerich, 1977, GMH XXII-624, right mandibular ramus with P3-M3, root of a small single-rooted P2 and alveolus of C1, which is isolated (mirrored). (G)— Godinotia neglecta (Thalmann, Haubold & Martin, 1989), holotype (GMH L-2), detail: palate containing M3-P3s and d, and the small unicuspid and one-rooted P2s. Arrows show the position of P2/P2. Geiseltal primates come from Middle Eocene zones MP12 and 13, slightly later in time than those from Messel (MP11). Godinotia neglecta, like Darwinius masillae, is distinguished from Europolemur klatti by the presence of small, straight, single-rooted P2.
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pone-0005723-g003: Radiographic comparison of middle Eocene primates from Geiseltal in eastern Germany.(A)— Europolemur klatti (Weigelt, 1933), GMH CeIV-3656, left and right mandible with I1–2, C1, P2-M3d and I1–2, C1, P3-M3s. (B)— Europolemur klatti (Weigelt, 1933), GMH LeoI-4233, part of the skull with upper dentition, which is part of the holotype. (C)— Europolemur klatti (Weigelt, 1933), GMH XXXVII-120, fragmentary left mandible with double-rooted P2, P3–4, and heavily worn M1–3. (D)— Europolemur klatti (Weigelt, 1933), GMH XXII-1, right mandibular ramus with P3-M3 and alveoli for a double rooted P2. (E)— Protoadapis ignoratus (Thalmann, 1994), GMH XXII-549, part of type specimen, fragment of right mandible with C1, P3–4, M1, alveoli of P2 and M3 (mirrored). (F)— Protoadapis weigelti Gingerich, 1977, GMH XXII-624, right mandibular ramus with P3-M3, root of a small single-rooted P2 and alveolus of C1, which is isolated (mirrored). (G)— Godinotia neglecta (Thalmann, Haubold & Martin, 1989), holotype (GMH L-2), detail: palate containing M3-P3s and d, and the small unicuspid and one-rooted P2s. Arrows show the position of P2/P2. Geiseltal primates come from Middle Eocene zones MP12 and 13, slightly later in time than those from Messel (MP11). Godinotia neglecta, like Darwinius masillae, is distinguished from Europolemur klatti by the presence of small, straight, single-rooted P2.

Mentions: Microradiographs were enlarged by direct projection of the specimen using a microfocus X-ray tube with 10-micron resolution (FXT 100.52, Feinfocus/Yxlon, Germany) on a real-time digital sensor (C7942 CK12, version modified for small bones, Hamamatsu, Japan). Moderately enlarged microradiographs (1.9×) of comparative primate specimens (Fig. 3) were made with a conventional clinical digital mammography system (Mammomat Novation with enlargement set, Siemens, Germany).


Complete primate skeleton from the Middle Eocene of Messel in Germany: morphology and paleobiology.

Franzen JL, Gingerich PD, Habersetzer J, Hurum JH, von Koenigswald W, Smith BH - PLoS ONE (2009)

Radiographic comparison of middle Eocene primates from Geiseltal in eastern Germany.(A)— Europolemur klatti (Weigelt, 1933), GMH CeIV-3656, left and right mandible with I1–2, C1, P2-M3d and I1–2, C1, P3-M3s. (B)— Europolemur klatti (Weigelt, 1933), GMH LeoI-4233, part of the skull with upper dentition, which is part of the holotype. (C)— Europolemur klatti (Weigelt, 1933), GMH XXXVII-120, fragmentary left mandible with double-rooted P2, P3–4, and heavily worn M1–3. (D)— Europolemur klatti (Weigelt, 1933), GMH XXII-1, right mandibular ramus with P3-M3 and alveoli for a double rooted P2. (E)— Protoadapis ignoratus (Thalmann, 1994), GMH XXII-549, part of type specimen, fragment of right mandible with C1, P3–4, M1, alveoli of P2 and M3 (mirrored). (F)— Protoadapis weigelti Gingerich, 1977, GMH XXII-624, right mandibular ramus with P3-M3, root of a small single-rooted P2 and alveolus of C1, which is isolated (mirrored). (G)— Godinotia neglecta (Thalmann, Haubold & Martin, 1989), holotype (GMH L-2), detail: palate containing M3-P3s and d, and the small unicuspid and one-rooted P2s. Arrows show the position of P2/P2. Geiseltal primates come from Middle Eocene zones MP12 and 13, slightly later in time than those from Messel (MP11). Godinotia neglecta, like Darwinius masillae, is distinguished from Europolemur klatti by the presence of small, straight, single-rooted P2.
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

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getmorefigures.php?uid=PMC2683573&req=5

pone-0005723-g003: Radiographic comparison of middle Eocene primates from Geiseltal in eastern Germany.(A)— Europolemur klatti (Weigelt, 1933), GMH CeIV-3656, left and right mandible with I1–2, C1, P2-M3d and I1–2, C1, P3-M3s. (B)— Europolemur klatti (Weigelt, 1933), GMH LeoI-4233, part of the skull with upper dentition, which is part of the holotype. (C)— Europolemur klatti (Weigelt, 1933), GMH XXXVII-120, fragmentary left mandible with double-rooted P2, P3–4, and heavily worn M1–3. (D)— Europolemur klatti (Weigelt, 1933), GMH XXII-1, right mandibular ramus with P3-M3 and alveoli for a double rooted P2. (E)— Protoadapis ignoratus (Thalmann, 1994), GMH XXII-549, part of type specimen, fragment of right mandible with C1, P3–4, M1, alveoli of P2 and M3 (mirrored). (F)— Protoadapis weigelti Gingerich, 1977, GMH XXII-624, right mandibular ramus with P3-M3, root of a small single-rooted P2 and alveolus of C1, which is isolated (mirrored). (G)— Godinotia neglecta (Thalmann, Haubold & Martin, 1989), holotype (GMH L-2), detail: palate containing M3-P3s and d, and the small unicuspid and one-rooted P2s. Arrows show the position of P2/P2. Geiseltal primates come from Middle Eocene zones MP12 and 13, slightly later in time than those from Messel (MP11). Godinotia neglecta, like Darwinius masillae, is distinguished from Europolemur klatti by the presence of small, straight, single-rooted P2.
Mentions: Microradiographs were enlarged by direct projection of the specimen using a microfocus X-ray tube with 10-micron resolution (FXT 100.52, Feinfocus/Yxlon, Germany) on a real-time digital sensor (C7942 CK12, version modified for small bones, Hamamatsu, Japan). Moderately enlarged microradiographs (1.9×) of comparative primate specimens (Fig. 3) were made with a conventional clinical digital mammography system (Mammomat Novation with enlargement set, Siemens, Germany).

Bottom Line: Darwinius masillae represents the most complete fossil primate ever found, including both skeleton, soft body outline and contents of the digestive tract.Study of all these features allows a fairly complete reconstruction of life history, locomotion, and diet.Any future study of Eocene-Oligocene primates should benefit from information preserved in the Darwinius holotype.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg, Frankfurt, Germany.

ABSTRACT

Background: The best European locality for complete Eocene mammal skeletons is Grube Messel, near Darmstadt, Germany. Although the site was surrounded by a para-tropical rain forest in the Eocene, primates are remarkably rare there, and only eight fragmentary specimens were known until now. Messel has now yielded a full primate skeleton. The specimen has an unusual history: it was privately collected and sold in two parts, with only the lesser part previously known. The second part, which has just come to light, shows the skeleton to be the most complete primate known in the fossil record.

Methodology/principal findings: We describe the morphology and investigate the paleobiology of the skeleton. The specimen is described as Darwinius masillae n.gen. n.sp. belonging to the Cercamoniinae. Because the skeleton is lightly crushed and bones cannot be handled individually, imaging studies are of particular importance. Skull radiography shows a host of teeth developing within the juvenile face. Investigation of growth and proportion suggest that the individual was a weaned and independent-feeding female that died in her first year of life, and might have attained a body weight of 650-900 g had she lived to adulthood. She was an agile, nail-bearing, generalized arboreal quadruped living above the floor of the Messel rain forest.

Conclusions/significance: Darwinius masillae represents the most complete fossil primate ever found, including both skeleton, soft body outline and contents of the digestive tract. Study of all these features allows a fairly complete reconstruction of life history, locomotion, and diet. Any future study of Eocene-Oligocene primates should benefit from information preserved in the Darwinius holotype. Of particular importance to phylogenetic studies, the absence of a toilet claw and a toothcomb demonstrates that Darwinius masillae is not simply a fossil lemur, but part of a larger group of primates, Adapoidea, representative of the early haplorhine diversification.

Show MeSH
Related in: MedlinePlus