Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Its the 10th installment of Fossil Sirenia of the West Atlantic and Caribbean Region!

Today came out the most recent issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. Amongst many other interesting papers, there is one by yours truly and former PhD advisor Daryl Domning. In our paper we describe a new sirenian taxon from early Oligocene deposits in Puerto Rico and South Carolina, its our second new species this year, as some months ago we published the description of Metaxytherium albifontanum Velez-Juarbe and Domning, 2014 (read more about it here). The fossil from Puerto Rico, which is fairly complete, comes from the same overall locality as some other fossils I've mentioned in previous posts, like Aktiogavialis puertoricensis Velez-Juarbe et al., 2007, and the oldest West Indian rodent (Velez-Juarbe et al., 2014).  This paper also marks the Tenth (!!!!) installment of the series on Fossil Sirenia of the West Atlantic and Caribbean Region, which Daryl started in 1988 (Domning, 1988)! Such long-lasting series are very uncommon!

The last time a new species of sirenian was described from Puerto Rico was 1959, when Roy H. Reinhart in his monumental work on Sirenia and Desmostylia, described Caribosiren turneri (see picture below) from the San Sebastian Formation in the northwestern part of the island. Caribosiren is a weird dugongid, it has a rostral deflection (downturning of the snout) of nearly 90º, and apparently no tusks!!
Caribosiren turneri Reinhart, 1959, from the San Sebastian Formation of Puerto Rico. Notice the extremely downturned snout  which always reminds me of Gonzo! The tip of the snout, although not preserved very well, hints at a lack of tusks.
(Photo courtesy of N.D. Pyenson) (Click on image to see larger version.)
The new fossil is from the same formation as Caribosiren. We named our new species Priscosiren atlantica, in reference to its ancestral relationship to other fossil dugongids (prisco means ancient, former) and its occurrence in the Western Atlantic region.
Priscosiren atlantica is known from multiple elements of two individuals, one from the Puerto Rico (USNM 542417) the other from South Carolina (SC 89.254). Its one of the most complete early Oligocene sirenians known. (Outline of skeleton modified from Cope, 1890).
(Click on image to see larger version.)

Slides from a talk that Daryl and I gave at the 2013 SVP annual meeting. Here we point out to several of the characters that diagnose Priscosiren atlantica as well as its relationship to other dugongids.
(Click on image to see larger version.)
 Priscosiren is represented by at least two individuals (an adult and a subadult), with associated cranial and postcranial material, making it one of the best known early Oligocene sirenians. This species occupies a special place amongst other dugongids as it seems to be ancestral (hence its name) to a clade that includes Metaxytherium spp. + Hydrodamalinae, and Dugonginae (see above). More interestingly, is that Priscosiren is found in the same formation as Caribosiren in Puerto Rico, and Crenatosiren olseni in South Carolina, and hints at the presence of sirenian multispecies communities (Velez-Juarbe et al., 2012) during the early Oligocene.

The day we found the holotype specimen of Priscosiren (USNM 542417) was the same day we found the holotype of Aktiogavialis puertoricensis, which we were able to collect that same day. In contrast, collecting Priscosiren was an ordeal, it is a long story, of discovery, failed attempts at collecting it, loss of parts, and final recovery. So stay tuned for an upcoming post about that story!


Domning, D. P. 1988. Fossil Sirenia of the West Atlantic and Caribbean Region. I. Metaxytherium floridanum Hay, 1922. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 8:395-426.

Reinhart, R. H. 1959. A review of the Sirenia and Desmostylia. University of California Publications in Geological Sciences 36(1):1-146.

Velez-Juarbe, J., C. A. Brochu, and H. Santos. 2007. A gharial from the Oligocene of Puerto Rico: transoceanic dispersal in the history of a nonmarine reptile. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 274:1245-1254.

Velez-Juarbe, J., and D. P. Domning. 2014. Fossil Sirenia of the West Atlantic and Caribbean Region. IX. Metaxytherium albifontanum. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 34:444-464.

Velez-Juarbe, J., and D. P. Domning. 2014. Fossil Sirenia of the West Atlantic and Caribbean Region. X. Priscosiren atlantica gen. et sp. nov. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 34:951-964.

Velez-Juarbe, J., D. P. Domning, and N. D. Pyenson. 2012. Iterative evolution of sympatric seacow (Dugongidae, Sirenia) assemblages during the past ~26 million years. PLoS ONE 7:e31294.

Velez-Juarbe, J., T. Martin, R. D. E. MacPhee, and D. Ortega-Ariza. 2014. The earliest Caribbean rodents: Oligocene caviomorphs from Puerto Rico. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 34:157-163.