New phiomorph rodents from the latest Eocene of Egypt, and the impact of Bayesian “clock”-based phylogenetic methods on estimates of basal hystricognath relationships and biochronology



Sallam HM, Seiffert ER.


PeerJ. 2016 Mar 1;4:e1717. doi: 10.7717/peerj.1717. 2016.


The Fayum Depression of Egypt has yielded fossils of hystricognathous rodents from multiple Eocene and Oligocene horizons that range in age from ∼37 to ∼30 Ma and document several phases in the early evolution of crown Hystricognathi and one of its major subclades, Phiomorpha. Here we describe two new genera and species of basal phiomorphs, Birkamys korai and Mubhammys vadumensis, based on rostra and maxillary and mandibular remains from the terminal Eocene (∼34 Ma) Fayum Locality 41 (L-41). Birkamys is the smallest known Paleogene hystricognath, has very simple molars, and, like derived Oligocene-to-Recent phiomorphs (but unlike contemporaneous and older taxa) apparently retained dP(4)∕4 late into life, with no evidence for P(4)∕4 eruption or formation. Mubhammys is very similar in dental morphology to Birkamys, and also shows no evidence for P(4)∕4 formation or eruption, but is considerably larger. Though parsimony analysis with all characters equally weighted places Birkamys and Mubhammys as sister taxa of extant Thryonomys to the exclusion of much younger relatives of that genus, all other methods (standard Bayesian inference, Bayesian “tip-dating,” and parsimony analysis with scaled transitions between “fixed” and polymorphic states) place these species in more basal positions within Hystricognathi, as sister taxa of Oligocene-to-Recent phiomorphs. We also employ tip-dating as a means for estimating the ages of early hystricognath-bearing localities, many of which are not well-constrained by geological, geochronological, or biostratigraphic evidence. By simultaneously taking into account phylogeny, evolutionary rates, and uniform priors that appropriately encompass the range of possible ages for fossil localities, dating of tips in this Bayesian framework allows paleontologists to move beyond vague and assumption-laden “stage of evolution” arguments in biochronology to provide relatively rigorous age assessments of poorly-constrained

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Link/DOI: 10.7717/peerj.1717