A new Desmodillus (Gerbillinae, Rodentia) species from the early Pliocene site of Langebaanweg (South-western Cape, South Africa)
Lower Pliocene; Muridae; Rodentia; RSA
Situated in the Cape region of the Republic of South Africa (RSA), the paleontological site of Langebaanweg is dated to 5.1 Myr and is famous for having yielded an abundant vertebrate assemblage, including numerous rodent species from the Mio-Pliocene transition. Based on molar morphology and skull anatomy, the single Gerbillinae taxon identified at Langebaanweg and described in this paper is allocated to Desmodillus, which is a modern monotypic South African endemic genus. It is significant in being the oldest representative of the genus in Africa. We describe here a new species of this genus which is larger than the modern D. auricularis, but nevertheless retains some of its main characteristics, namely the shape of the maxilla and mandible, the presence of poorly fused alternating cusps, and no longitudinal crest. This taxon differs from modern South African Gerbilliscus representatives in some mandibular and maxillary characters, in the m1 prelobe cusp, and in having less fused cusps. Two fossil Gerbillinae discovered in the Upper Miocene of Africa and Asia, Abudhabia and Protatera, have been compared with the new species. We discuss their relationships with modern and Plio-pleistocene Gerbillinae and conclude that Abudhabia could be the sister taxon of Desmodillus and that around 6-5 Myr a vicariance event allowed Gerbillinae to diversify into modern Desmodillus in South Africa, and Gerbilliscus in East Africa. The murine/gerbilline ratio, which is a good indicator of rainfall, supports other proxies which suggest that at 5.1 Myr the climate in the Langebaanweg region was more humid than today.