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Proc Biol Sci. 2007 May 22;274(1615):1245-54.

A gharial from the Oligocene of Puerto Rico: transoceanic dispersal in the history of a non-marine reptile.

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  • 1Department of Geology, University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez, PR 00681, USA.


The Indian gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) is not found in saltwater, but the geographical distribution of fossil relatives suggests a derivation from ancestors that lived in, or were at least able to withstand, saline conditions. Here, we describe a new Oligocene gharial, Aktiogavialis puertoricensis, from deltaic-coastal deposits of northern Puerto Rico. It is related to a clade of Neogene gharials otherwise restricted to South America. Its geological and geographical settings, along with its phylogenetic relationships, are consistent with two scenarios: (i) that a single trans-Atlantic dispersal event during the Tertiary explains the South American Neogene gharial assemblage and (ii) that stem gharials were coastal animals and their current restriction to freshwater settings is a comparatively recent environmental shift for the group. This discovery highlights the importance of including fossil information in a phylogenetic context when assessing the ecological history of modern organisms.

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