Digging up ancient animals in Amazonia


Laurent Marivaux standing on the banks of a river, holding a pick and a hammer

Palaeontologist Laurent Marivaux and his group have actually found a number of fossilized mammals in Amazonia. Credit: F. Pujos

With his group, Laurent Marivaux, a palaeontologist at the Institute of Evolutionary Sciences of Montpellier, France, has actually been finding primates and rodents that emerged in South America more than 35 million years earlier.

His most current discover, a little primate called Ashaninkacebus simpsoni, was released1 this July. After crossing the Atlantic Ocean in enigmatic situations, this mammal evolutionarily diverged into a varied selection of types. Nature spoke with Marivaux about working deep in the jungle to find these fossils. He states that his research study counts on rewarding cooperations with researchers along with with Indigenous individuals– and on a desire to strive physically and sustain pain in the field.

What does the discovery of mammals that emerged in South America more than 35 million years ago inform us about animal advancement?

Over the previous 15 years, our global group of geologists and palaeontologists has actually discovered teeth from a number of types of rodent2 and primate3 in Amazonia. Dating to 35 million to 40 million years earlier, the fossils are amongst the very first traces of mammals in South America. The primate types that we have actually found are most likely carefully associated to the forefathers of platyrrhines [New World monkeys], such as marmosets and capuchins. And caviomorph rodents, consisting of guinea pigs and chinchillas, are descendants of rodents that emerged in the area at the very same time as the primate types.

These discoveries have actually taught us that these types initially originated from Africa and South Asia, where fossilized animals in these groups date to earlier times, around 45 million years earlier. These animals evolutionarily diverged on the South American continent, leading to the wealthiest mammalian biodiversity on earth. The conditions and restrictions in South America in time were completely various from those in Africa, resulting in completely various evolutionary advancement. This has actually caused unique evolutionary outcomes, such as the lack of primates in the Americas. Contrasts such as these assistance us to comprehend animal advancement.

We simply made a much more unexpected discovery: a primate discovered in Amazonia that came from South Asia1 The particular group that this primate belonged to has actually never ever been officially found in Africa, it needs to have passed through the continent to reach the Atlantic Ocean. Palaeontologists can reevaluate unsolved African findings due to the fact that it is most likely to have actually been present in Africa.

How did these mammals initially get here in South America?

The arrival in South America of a number of rodent and primate types from Africa around 40 million years ago indicates that they crossed the Atlantic Ocean when the continents were currently 1,000 kilometres apart. A commonly accepted theory is that a big piece of land broke away near the mouth of a river throughout extreme weather occasions. This produced a natural raft that was big enough to bring a whole environment: plants, bugs and little vertebrates, consisting of mammals.

View of a river with trees covering river banks on either side

Mammals may have gotten here in South America some 40 million years earlier after passing through the Atlantic Ocean on a land raft from Africa. Credit: L. Marivaux

The concept of a natural raft the size of a soccer pitch is possible due to the fact that such rafts can be seen today in between the West Indies and South America. It might have taken 7 to 10 days to cross the Atlantic Ocean– a journey short enough to guarantee the survival of the animals on board.

The attributes of fossilized types discovered in South America assistance this hypothesis. The mammals were little: rodents weighing no greater than 100 grams, and primates weighing around 200 grams.

What is it like to do fieldwork in remote locations of Amazonia?

You need to accept the pain of rough outdoor camping, a damp and hot environment and long canoe journeys. The context is various from my peaceful life in a little town near Montpellier in the south of France. Our explorations last a couple of weeks– no more, due to the fact that of their expenses. You need to enhance your work. Partnership is vital. We have excellent relationships with regional geologists in South America who add to our research study by offering us with the accurate ages of fossils, along with the context of the environments that the animals resided in. The shared trust with South American scientists in various disciplines is crucial to information analysis and to comprehending the field and how to access it.

A degree of diplomacy is likewise essential, due to the fact that it can be all too simple for misconceptions to occur with Indigenous neighborhoods. Since we did not follow the best treatment to go into the land, an objective in Peruvian Amazonia nearly ended in a disaster. We got here on the area of the Shipibo individuals by land, instead of by river. The chief of the neighborhood arranged a trial, threatening us with a possible death sentences. We needed to leave immediately and quit the objective. We waited a number of years to discover a brand-new chance to discuss our goals and work to the Shipibo neighborhood.

How are relations with the Indigenous individuals residing in Amazonia today?

Trust and a type of relationship have actually been developed in between us. We share our findings with the neighborhoods we have actually been checking out. We take the chance to bring materials to these separated neighborhoods if asked. We have actually formerly taken a laptop computer, a screen and projector, and beach balls.

Our discoveries are likewise called after the regional individuals. The little primate we just recently found is called

Ashaninkacebus simpsoni

Its name is both a commitment to the Indigenous Asháninka neighborhoods residing in the area and to the popular evolutionary palaeontologist George G. Simpson, who originated palaeontological research study in the area in the 1950s.Nature Spotlight on Science in France This interview has actually been modified for length and clearness.

This post becomes part of (*), an editorially independent supplement. Marketers have no impact over the material.(*)


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