Re-evaluation of Sinocastor (Rodentia: Castoridae) with implications on the origin of modern beavers.

TitleRe-evaluation of Sinocastor (Rodentia: Castoridae) with implications on the origin of modern beavers.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsRybczynski N, Ross EM, Samuels JX, Korth WW
JournalPLoS One
Date Published2010 Nov 15
KeywordsAnimals, China, Female, Fossils, Geography, Male, North America, Phylogeny, Rodentia, Skull, Species Specificity

The extant beaver, Castor, has played an important role shaping landscapes and ecosystems in Eurasia and North America, yet the origins and early evolution of this lineage remain poorly understood. Here we use a geometric morphometric approach to help re-evaluate the phylogenetic affinities of a fossil skull from the Late Miocene of China. This specimen was originally considered Sinocastor, and later transferred to Castor. The aim of this study was to determine whether this form is an early member of Castor, or if it represents a lineage outside of Castor. The specimen was compared to 38 specimens of modern Castor (both C. canadensis and C. fiber) as well as fossil specimens of C. fiber (Pleistocene), C. californicus (Pliocene) and the early castorids Steneofiber eseri (early Miocene). The results show that the specimen falls outside the Castor morphospace and that compared to Castor, Sinocastor possesses a: 1) narrower post-orbital constriction, 2) anteroposteriorly shortened basioccipital depression, 3) shortened incisive foramen, 4) more posteriorly located palatine foramen, 5) longer rostrum, and 6) longer braincase. Also the specimen shows a much shallower basiocciptal depression than what is seen in living Castor, as well as prominently rooted molars. We conclude that Sinocastor is a valid genus. Given the prevalence of apparently primitive traits, Sinocastor might be a near relative of the lineage that gave rise to Castor, implying a possible Asiatic origin for Castor.

Alternate JournalPLoS ONE
PubMed ID21085579
PubMed Central IDPMC2981558