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J Exp Zool B Mol Dev Evol. 2006 Mar 15;306(2):140-63.

Evolutionary transformations of fetal membrane characters in Eutheria with special reference to Afrotheria.

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Institut für Systematische Zoologie, Museum für Naturkunde, Humboldt-Universität Berlin, DE-10115 Berlin, Germany.


Analysis of molecular data sets has provided new insights into higher-level relationships of living Eutheria, including the recognition of Afrotheria as a novel taxon. This offers an opportunity to take a fresh look at the evolution of organ systems, including some that are little used in traditional systematics. In the present study, we attempted a reconstruction of the evolution of characters associated with placentation, the fetal membranes and the female reproductive tract. The evolutionary history of 21 characters has been traced, based on a current hypothesis of eutherian relationships, by applying the computer program MacClade. Accordingly, the analysis provides a first comprehensive interpretation of the stem species pattern of Eutheria. Of particular note, this pattern includes an endotheliochorial chorioallantoic placenta. The reconstructed pattern of Eutheria does not change in the basal nodes of the group. Thus, no character transformations occur on the stem lineages of Laurasiatheria or Euarchontoglires, and even Afrotheria has mostly plesiomorphic character conditions. However, two character transformations occur on the common stem lineage of Afrotheria and its sister taxon Xenarthra, i.e., amniogenesis by cavitation instead of folding and the precocial state of the newborn. In addition, we recognized one character transformation on the stem lineage of Afrotheria, i.e., the occurrence of a four-lobed allantoic sac. Thus, contrary to previous assertions, it is possible to identify morphological characters that could be synapomorphic for this novel taxon.

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