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Press Release 09-205

Ancient Lemurs Take Bite Out of Evolutionary Tree

The fossil primate Darwinius and a new find, Afradapis, are not related to humans

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Artist's reconstruction of the lower jaw of a 37 million-year-old Egyptian primate, Afradapis.

Artist's reconstruction of the lower jaw of a 37 million-year-old Egyptian primate, Afradapis.

Credit: Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation


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Stony Brook University paleontologist, Erik Seiffert, explains that while some students of the early primate fossil record consider adapiforms to be closely related to Old World monkeys, apes and humans, they actually developed similar features independently through a process called convergent evolution.

Credit: Dena Headlee/National Science Foundation

 

Photo of a Sifaka lemur in Madagascar.

Palentologist Erik Seiffert and his research team recently uncovered the fossils of a new adapiform primate, which they describe as a distant relative to current day lemurs.

Credit: Credit: Walter Jetz, UCSD


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Palentologists proposed placement of Afradapis and Darwinius on the primate family tree.

Using a method called parsimony analysis to reconstruct the most likely family tree of living and extinct primates, taking into consideration virtually all of the available anatomical evidence that can be observed, palentologists determined that Darwinius and its now extinct relatives, including Afradapis, are not on the evolutionary lineage leading to Old World monkey's, apes and humans, but instead are more closely related to the living lemurs and lorises.

Credit: Erik Seiffert, Stony Brook University


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Photo of the upper and lower molars of the extinct Afradapis primate.

Students of the early primate fossil record generally hold two views about the evolution of an extinct group of lemur-like primates called adapiforms. A majority of students consider adapiforms to be ancient relatives of a primate suborder that includes lemurs and lorises. A minority view is that adapiforms are more closely related to monkeys and apes. The latter hypothesis hinges on features such as fusion of the two halves of the jaw, reduction and loss of the first few premolar teeth, and the presence of incisors. Researchers say their studies of the jaw and teeth of the adapiform Afradapis shows that adapiforms and the distant relatives of monkeys and apes independently evolved similar features.

Credit: Erik Seiffert, Stony Brook University


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Photo of paleontologist Erik Seiffert excavating a new location in Egypt's Fayum Depression.

Paleontologists searched an area near the Fayum Depression in northern Egypt about 40 miles outside Cairo for clues to the primate evolution tree.

Credit: Erik Seiffert, Stony Brook University


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