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Abstract

A remarkable diversity of plant-eating mammals known as South American native ungulates (SANUs) flourished in South America for most of the Cenozoic. Although some of these species likely filled ecological niches similar to those of modern hoofed mammals, others differed substantially from extant artiodactyls and perissodactyls in their skull and limb anatomy and probably also in their ecology. Notoungulates and litopterns were the longest-lived and most diverse SANU clades and survived into the Quaternary; astrapotheres went extinct in the late Miocene, whereas other SANU groups were restricted to the Paleogene. Neogene notoungulates were quite specialized in craniodental structure, but many were rather unspecialized postcranially; in contrast, litopterns evolved limb specializations early in their history while maintaining more conservative dentitions. In this article, we review the current understanding of SANU evolutionary relationships and paleoecology, provide an updated compilation of genus temporal ranges, and discuss possible directions for future research.

  • ▪   South American native ungulates (SANUs) were a diverse, long-lived, and independent radiation of mammals into varied terrestrial plant-eater niches.
  • ▪   We review origins, evolution, and paleoecology of the major SANU clades: Notoungulata, Litopterna, Astrapotheria, Xenungulata, and Pyrotheria.
  • ▪   At their peak, during the Eocene and Oligocene, more than 40 genera of native ungulates inhabited South America at any one time.
  • ▪   SANUs ranged from <1 kg to several tons and evolved many combinations of diet and locomotor adaptations not seen in living ungulates.

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2020-05-30
2024-04-15
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