SVP 2018: Tooth loss in mysticete whales x5 abstracts

Five SVP abstracts
fumble with the issue of tooth loss preceding the origin of mysticete whales under the invalid assumption that the traditional clade Cetacea is monophyletic. It is not. Whales had two or three (right whales make it three) separate origins, as we learned earlier here.

ABSTRACT 1
Ekdale and Deméré 2018
continue beating a dead horse trying to figure out how Aetiocetus evolved into the clade Mysticeti (Figs. 1-4). In the large reptile tree (LRT, 1038 taxa) mysticetes evolved from desmostylians (Fig. 2-4) while being tested against all prior candidate taxa. Odontocetes evolved from tenrecs, pakicetids and archaeocetids (Fig. 1). Ekdale and Deméré 2018 mistakenly (through taxon exclusion) consider the toothed Aetiocetus a member of the traditional ‘toothed mysticetes’ that they mistakenly think “plays a central role in the debate.”

Figure 4. Subset of the LRT focusing on the odontocetes and their ancestors.
Figure 4. Subset of the LRT focusing on the odontocetes and their ancestors.

The authors conclude:
“These results provide critical evidence that the lateral palatal foramina in A. weltoni are
homologous with lateral nutrient foramina in extant mysticetes. As such, the lateral nutrient
foramina in A. weltoni provide strong support for the hypothesis that aetiocetids possessed both teeth and some form of baleen.”
 Unfortunately the authors saw what they wanted to see. They never tested tenrecs or desmostylians and so failed to recover the correct phylogenetic framework upon which their work could proceed. Maybe a similar CT scan will find similar nerve and blood vessel patterns in desmostyians. Only testing will reveal what the cladogram indicates.

Figure 1. Subset of the LRT focusing on the mesonyx/mysticete clade showing the split between right whales and all other mysticetes.
Figure 2. Subset of the LRT focusing on the mesonyx/mysticete clade showing the split between right whales and all other mysticetes.

ABSTRACT 2
Gatesy et al. 2018 reassess “phylogenetic studies presented over the past dozen years that have variously reconstructed this complex evolutionary sequence. Early work proposed a step-wise transformation in which toothed mysticetes transitioned via ‘intermediate’ forms with both teeth and baleen to toothless filter feeders. Later studies presented alternative scenarios featuring filtration with teeth instead of baleen, loss of a functional dentition before the evolution of baleen, pure suction feeding, and/or convergent evolution of several key mysticete features. We reanalyzed published cladistic matrices in the context of extensive new molecular data, assessed character support for alternative relationships, and mapped six features related to filter feeding in Mysticeti: presence/absence of 1) teeth, 2) baleen, 3) lateral nutrient foramina on the palate (possible osteological correlates of baleen), 4) a broad rostrum, 5) laterally bowed mandibles, and 6) an unsutured mandibular symphysis.”

All for naught.
They could have and should have run a wide gamut phylogenetic analysis like the LRT which separates the ancestors of odontocetes from the ancestors of mysticetes by a wide phylogenetic distance of intervening taxa (Figs. 1, 2). The ancestors of mysticetes are not to be found among the ancestors of odontocetes. This has been online for two years now.

ABSTRACT 3
Geisler, Beatty and Boessnecker 2018
discuss, to no avail, new specimens of Coronodon havensteini, which they say is the most basal mysticete (in the absence of desmostylians and kin) and the LRT nests at the base of the odontocetes and aetiocetes. Surprisingly, the authors report, these specimens support the hypothesis that Coronodon engaged in macrophagy and filter feeding, and underscores the challenges for reconstructing the behaviors of extinct species based on the limited sample provided by the fossil record.” No they have evidence for macrophagy and they have contrived a scenario for filter feeding. 

Figure 1. Taxa in the lineage of the right whale (Eubalaena) include the pygmy right whale (Caperea) and the desmostylian, Desmostylus.
Figure 3. Taxa in the lineage of the right whale (Eubalaena) include the pygmy right whale (Caperea) and the desmostylian, Desmostylus. You don’t have to look for tooth loss in desmostylians. They already have that trait and so many more.

ABSTRACT 4
Lanzetti, Berta and Ekdale 2018
looked at fetal mysticetes and reported, “We present new evidence on the ontogeny of the minke whale, which develops a dense tissue dorsal to the rostral canal where the tooth buds are either already absent or clearly undergoing resorption. The identity of this tissue should be confirmed by histological analysis, but it may be the first sign of baleen development, as posited by previous studies of these species. Overall, the GM analyses show that the fossils occupy a different morphospace than modern species, possibly indicating that they had specific feeding adaptations not shared by modern mysticetes.”
Clearly they are not looking at desmostylians, which loose most of their teeth in adults.

Figure 1. Rorqual evolution from desmostylians, Neoparadoxia, the RBCM specimen of Behemotops, Miocaperea, Eschrichtius and Cetotherium, not to scale.
Figure 41. Rorqual evolution from desmostylians, Neoparadoxia, the RBCM specimen of Behemotops, Miocaperea, Eschrichtius and Cetotherium, not to scale.

ABSTRACT 5
Peredo 2018
thinks tooth loss precedes the origin of baleen in mysticetes by considering an Early Oligocene specimen from Oregon. In his thinking Peredo, like the authors above, is barking up the wrong tree when he reports, “Although living baleen whales are born without teeth, paleontological and embryological evidence demonstrate that they evolved from toothed ancestors that lacked baleen entirely.” However his specimen might be a desmostylian in the lineage of mysticetes when he reports, “This new material includes a transitional fossil mysticete that lacks both teeth and baleen entirely, demonstrating that tooth loss precedes the origin of baleen in mysticetes.”

A toothy Oregon taxon, Salishicetus, was described by Peredo and Pyenson 2018, who nested it basal to other aetiocetids. They reported, “The description of Salishicetus resolves phylogenetic relationships among aetiocetids, which provides a basis for reconstructing ancestral feeding morphology along the stem leading to crown Mysticeti.”

References
Ekdale EG and Deméré TA 2018. Tooth-to-baleen transition in mysticetes: New CT evidence of vascular structures on the palate of Aetiocetus weltoni (Mysticeti, Cetacea). SVP abstract.
Gatesy et al. (4 co-authors) 2018. Contrasting interpretations of the teeth to baleen transition in mysticete cetaceans. SVP abstract.
Geisler J, Beatty BL and Boessenecker RW 2018. New specimens of Coronodon havensteini provide insights into the transition from raptorial to filter feeding in whales. SVP abstract.
Lanzetti A, Berta A and Ekdale EG 2018. Looking at fossils in a new light: teeth to baleen transition in relation to the ontogeny and phylogeny of baleen whales. SVP abstract.
Peredo CM 2018. From teeth to baleen: Tooth loss precedes the origin of baleen in whales. SVP abstracts.
Peredo CM and Pyenson ND 2018. Salishicetus meadi, a new aetiocetid from the late Oligocene of Washington State and implications for feeding transitions in early mysticete evolution. Royal Society Open Science 5: 172336. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsos.172336

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