Saturday, April 23, 2016

These are not the Paleogene Penguins you are Looking for

New late Eocene and Oligocene remains of the flightless, penguin-like plotopterids (Aves, Plotopteridae) from western Washington State, U.S.A.


Mayr et al


We describe new plotopterids (Aves, Plotopteridae) from late Eocene and Oligocene strata in western Washington State, U.S.A. The specimens belong to four new species of these flightless, wing-propelled seabirds, three of which are named and assigned to two new supraspecific taxa, Olympidytes, gen. nov., and Klallamornis, gen. nov. We confirm previous observations on a high diversity of plotopterids in the Paleogene of North America, but because the fossils are from different formations, it remains elusive how many of the six currently recognized species from western Washington actually coexisted. Tonsala, the only previously described plotopterid taxon from the Olympic Peninsula, is likely to occupy a more basal phylogenetic position than the other plotopterids of this geographic area. Olympidytes and Klallamornis may be successive sister taxa of Copepteryx and Hokkaidornis from the late Oligocene of Japan, but a determination of the exact affinities of the new taxa requires the discovery of further fossils. Notably, the geochronologically youngest plotopterid, the early Miocene Plotopterum, differs from earlier taxa in plesiomorphic features and is here considered to be among the phylogenetically most basal plotopterids. The late Eocene basal Phocavis likewise temporally overlaps with more derived plotopterid taxa. The coexistence of basal and more derived plotopterids in the late Eocene may indicate a rapid evolution of plotopterids towards the late Eocene. The factors that allowed the persistence of basal taxa into the Miocene remain, however, elusive, and so are those that triggered the evolution of wing-propelled diving in these highly specialized birds.

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