The brain and inner ear of the early Paleocene ‘condylarth’ Carsioptychus coarctatus: implications for early placental mammal neurosensory biology and behavior

Joe Cameron, Sarah Shelley, Thomas Williamson, Stephen Brusatte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Mammals underwent a profound diversification after the end‐Cretaceous mass extinction, with placentals rapidly expanding in body size and diversity to fill new niches vacated by dinosaurs. Little is known, however, about the brains and senses of these earliest placentals, and how neurosensory features may have promoted their survival and diversification. We here use computed tomography (CT) to describe the brain, inner ear, sinuses, and endocranial nerves and vessels of Carsioptychus coarctatus, a periptychid “condylarth” that was among the first placentals to blossom during the few million years after the extinction, in the Paleocene. Carsioptychus has a generally primitive brain and inner ear that is similar to the inferred ancestral eutherian/placental condition. Notable “primitive” features include the large, anteriorly expanded, and conjoined olfactory bulbs, proportionally small neocortex, lissencephalic cerebrum, and large hindbrain compared to the cerebrum. An encephalization quotient (EQ) cannot be confidently calculated because of specimen crushing but was likely very small, and comparisons with other extinct placentals reveal that many Paleocene “archaic” mammals had EQ values below the hallmark threshold of modern placentals but within the zone of nonmammalian cynodonts, indicative of small brains and low intelligence. Carsioptychus did, however, have a “conventional” hearing range for a placental, but was not particularly agile, with semicircular canal dimensions similar to modern pigs. This information fleshes out the biology of a keystone Paleocene “archaic” placental, but more comparative work is needed to test hypotheses of how neurosensory evolution was related to the placental radiation. Anat Rec, 302:306–324, 2019.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)306-324
JournalAnatomical Record
Volume302
Issue number2
Early online date5 Oct 2018
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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