[MARMAM] New paper on the phylogeny of the pygmy right whale (Caperea)

Felix Marx felix.marx at monash.edu
Fri Oct 7 05:54:57 PDT 2016

Dear colleagues,

please find below the abstract and link to our recently published, open
access paper on a re-interpretation of the only known fossil pygmy right
whale, Miocaperea pulchra, and the status of the living pygmy right whale
as  the last survivor of the otherwise extinct family Cetotheriidae:

Marx, F.G. and Fordyce, N. 2016. A link no longer missing: new evidence for
the cetotheriid affinities of Caperea. PLoS ONE 11: e0164059


Abstract: The origins of the enigmatic pygmy right whale Caperea marginata,
the only living member of its subfamily (Neobalaeninae), are an outstanding
mystery of cetacean evolution. Its strikingly disparate morphology sets
Caperea apart from all other whales, and has turned it into a wildcard
taxon that holds the key to understanding modern baleen whale diversity.
Morphological cladistics generally ally this species with right whales,
whereas molecular analyses consistently cluster it with rorquals and grey
whales (Balaenopteroidea). A recent study potentially resolved this
conflict by proposing that Caperea belongs with the otherwise extinct
Cetotheriidae, but has been strongly criticised on morphological grounds.
Evidence from the neobalaenine fossil record could potentially give direct
insights into morphological transitions, but is currently limited to just a
single species: the Late Miocene Miocaperea pulchra, from Peru. We show
that Miocaperea has a highly unusual morphology of the auditory region,
resulting from a–presumably feeding-related–strengthening of the
articulation of the hyoid apparatus with the skull. This distinctive
arrangement is otherwise only found in the extinct Cetotheriidae, which
makes Miocaperea a “missing link” that demonstrates the origin of pygmy
right whales from cetotheriids, and confirms the latter’s resurrection from
the dead.

Kind regards,

Felix Marx

*Felix G. Marx* PhD
Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellow
*Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Brussels, Belgium
*Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
*Museum Victoria, Melbourne, Australia

Address: School of Biological Sciences, Monash University
25 Rainforest Walk, VIC 3800, Australia
Tel. +61 (0)3 9905 1190 (Monash University) or +61 (0)3 8341 7733 (Museum
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