Thursday, 25 November 2010

Bad luck not bad genes ended Thylacoleo's reign

Marsupial predators are not the poor cousins of the carnivore world, as has long been thought: new research shows that they have been just as diverse as placental carnivores over time.

"We've looked at the deep-time perspective and shown that over evolutionary history marsupial carnivores have been every bit as varied in shape and habit as their placental counterparts," says Dr Stephen Wroe, an author of a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

"Their ranks have included creatures as bizarre as the Argentinean pouched sabretooth, which sported monstrous, self-sharpening canine teeth that extended almost back into its braincase, and Australia’s own marsupial lion (Thyalcoleo carnifex, a skeleton of which is pictured above), which had teeth like bolt-cutters and the muscle power to match.”

“It seems likely that the diversity in skull shape among marsupial carnivores reflects a diversity in lifestyle that once was quite comparable to that of placentals,” says Dr Wroe, an expert in mammalian carnivore evolution. “Our results reinforce my own conclusion that the lack of marsupial predators in the world today has more to do with bad luck than bad genes.”

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