The orientation of the semicircular canals of the inner ear in the skull of vertebrates is one of the determinants of the capacity of this system to detect a given rotational movement of the head. Past functional studies on the spatial orientation of the semicircular canals essentially focused on the lateral semicircular canal (LSC), which is supposedly held close to horizontal during rest and/or alert behaviors. However, they generally investigated this feature in only a few and distantly related taxa. Based on 3D‐models reconstructed from µCT‐scans of skulls, we examined the diversity of orientations of the LSC within one of the four major clades of placental mammals, that is, the superorder Xenarthra, with a data set that includes almost all extant genera and two extinct taxa. We observed a wide diversity of LSC orientations relative to the basicranium at both intraspecific and interspecific scales. The estimated phylogenetic imprint on the orientation of the LSC was significant but rather low within the superorder, though some phylogenetic conservatism was detected for armadillos that were characterized by a strongly tilted LSC. A convergence between extant suspensory sloths was also detected, both genera showing a weakly tilted LSC. Our preliminary analysis of usual head posture in extant xenarthrans based on photographs of living animals further revealed that the LSC orientation in armadillos is congruent with a strongly nose‐down head posture. It also portrayed a more complex situation for sloths and anteaters. Finally, we also demonstrate that the conformation of the cranial vault and nuchal crests as well as the orientation of the posterior part of the petrosal may covary with the LSC orientation in Xenarthra. Possible inferences for the head postures of extinct xenarthrans such as giant ground sloths are discussed in the light of these results. Orientation of the lateral semicircular canal of the inner ear within the skull of extant xenarthrans (Mammalia). Upper skull: in the extant armadillo Dasypus kappleri . Lower skull: in the extant three‐toed sloth Bradypus tridactylus . The red lines mark the plane of the lateral semicircular canal, which is more oblique in armadillos than in sloths (relative to the palate).
The diet of the pichi armadillo ( ) was determined based on analysis of stomach contents of 26 dead individuals confiscated from poachers near Cerro Nevado, Mendoza Province, Argentina. Sand accounted for 66 ± 24% of stomach contents' dry weight. Beetles were the predominant food item in 14 and ants in 5 stomachs, while 5 animals had mainly ingested plant material. The remainder had mostly fed on fly larvae and arachnids. Coleoptera (mainly adults and Scarabeidae larvae) and plant material (seeds, leaves, and roots) were found in all stomachs examined. All pichis had fed on ants of different species and stages, suggesting that pichis eat any ant species they can find and actively prey on nests. Scorpions and spiders were observed in over 60% of stomachs but represented a low aggregate percent weight. Vertebrates were rarely found. Based on these results, the pichi of Mendoza Province can be described as an opportunistic omnivore that mainly feeds on insects and seems to be the least carnivorous of all carnivore–omnivore armadillos.
Armadillos, anteaters, and sloths (Order Xenarthra) comprise 1 of the 4 major clades of placental mammals. Isolated in South America from the other continental landmasses, xenarthrans diverged over a period of about 65 Myr, leaving more than 200 extinct genera and only 31 living species. The presence of both ancestral and highly derived anatomical features has made morphoanatomical analyses of the xenarthran evolutionary history difficult, and previous molecular analyses failed to resolve the relationships within armadillo subfamilies. We investigated the presence/absence patterns of retroposons from ∼7,400 genomic loci, identifying 35 phylogenetically informative elements and an additional 39 informative rare genomic changes (RGCs). DAS-short interspersed elements (SINEs), previously described only in the Dasypus novemcinctus genome, were found in all living armadillo genera, including the previously unsampled Chlamyphorus, but were noticeably absent in sloths. The presence/absence patterns of the phylogenetically informative retroposed elements and other RGCs were then compared with data from the DNA sequences of the more than 12-kb flanking regions of these retroposons. Together, these data provide the first fully resolved genus tree of xenarthrans. Interestingly, multiple evidence supports the grouping of Chaetophractus and Zaedyus as a sister group to Euphractus within Euphractinae, an association that was not previously demonstrated. Also, flanking sequence analyses favor a close phylogenetic relationship between Cabassous and Tolypeutes within Tolypeutinae. Finally, the phylogenetic position of the subfamily Chlamyphorinae is resolved by the noncoding sequence data set as the sister group of Tolypeutinae. The data provide a stable phylogenetic framework for further evolutionary investigations of xenarthrans and important information for defining conservation priorities to save the diversity of one of the most curious groups of mammals.
Extant xenarthrans (armadillos, anteaters and sloths) are among the most derived placental mammals ever evolved. South America was the cradle of their evolutionary history. During the Tertiary, xenarthrans experienced an extraordinary radiation, whereas South America remained isolated from other comments. The 13 living genera are relicts of this earlier diversification and represent one of the four major clades of placental mammals. Sequences of the three independent protein-coding nuclear markers alpha2B adrenergic receptor (ADRA2B), breast cancer susceptibility (BRCA1), and von Willebrand Factor (VWF) were determined for 12 of the 13 living xenarthran genera. Comparative evolutionary dynamics of these nuclear exons using a likelihood framework revealed contrasting patterns of molecular evolution. All codon positions of BRCA1 were shown to evolve in a strikingly similar manner, and third codon positions appeared less saturated within placentals than those of ADRA2B and VWF. Maximum likelihood and Bayesian phylogenetic analyses of a 47 placental taxa data set rooted by three marsupial outgroups resolved the phylogeny of Xenarthra with some evidence for two radiation events in armadillos and provided a strongly supported picture of placental interordinal relationships. This topology was fully compatible with recent studies, dividing placentals into the Southern Hemisphere clades Afrotheria and Xenarthra and a monophyletic Northern Hemisphere clade (Boreoeutheria) composed of Laurasiatheria and Euarchontoglires. Partitioned likelihood statistical tests of the position of the root, under different character partition schemes, identified three almost equally likely hypotheses for early placental divergences: a basal Afrotheria, an Afrotheria + Xenarthra clade, or a basal Xenarthra (Epitheria hypothesis). We took advantage of the extensive sampling realized within Xenarthra to assess its impact on the location of the root on the placental tree. By resampling taxa within Xenarthra, the conservative Shimodaira-Hasegawa likelihood-based test of alternative topologies was shown to be sensitive to both character and taxon sampling.
Xenarthrans—anteaters, sloths, and armadillos—have essential functions for ecosystem maintenance, such as insect control and nutrient cycling, playing key roles as ecosystem engineers. Because of habitat loss and fragmentation, hunting pressure, and conflicts with domestic dogs, these species have been threatened locally, regionally, or even across their full distribution ranges. The Neotropics harbor 21 species of armadillos, 10 anteaters, and 6 sloths. Our data set includes the families Chlamyphoridae (13), Dasypodidae (7), Myrmecophagidae (3), Bradypodidae (4), and Megalonychidae (2). We have no occurrence data on Dasypus pilosus (Dasypodidae). Regarding Cyclopedidae, until recently, only one species was recognized, but new genetic studies have revealed that the group is represented by seven species. In this data paper, we compiled a total of 42,528 records of 31 species, represented by occurrence and quantitative data, totaling 24,847 unique georeferenced records. The geographic range is from the southern United States, Mexico, and Caribbean countries at the northern portion of the Neotropics, to the austral distribution in Argentina, Paraguay, Chile, and Uruguay. Regarding anteaters, Myrmecophaga tridactyla has the most records ( n = 5,941), and Cyclopes sp. have the fewest ( n = 240). The armadillo species with the most data is Dasypus novemcinctus ( n = 11,588), and the fewest data are recorded for Calyptophractus retusus ( n = 33). With regard to sloth species, Bradypus variegatus has the most records ( n = 962), and Bradypus pygmaeus has the fewest ( n = 12). Our main objective with Neotropical Xenarthrans is to make occurrence and quantitative data available to facilitate more ecological research, particularly if we integrate the xenarthran data with other data sets of Neotropical Series that will become available very soon (i.e., Neotropical Carnivores, Neotropical Invasive Mammals, and Neotropical Hunters and Dogs). Therefore, studies on trophic cascades, hunting pressure, habitat loss, fragmentation effects, species invasion, and climate change effects will be possible with the Neotropical Xenarthrans data set. Please cite this data paper when using its data in publications. We also request that researchers and teachers inform us of how they are using these data.
Mylodon darwinii is the extinct giant ground sloth named after Cha rics Da rw in, who first collected its remains in South America. We have successfully obtained a high-quality mitochondrial genome at 99-fold coverage using an Illumina shotgun sequencing of a 12 880-year-old bone fragment from Mylodon Cave in Chile. Low level of DNA damage showed that this sample was exceptionally well preserved for an ancient subfossil, probably the result of the dry and cold conditions prevailing within the cave. Accordingly, taxonomic assessment of our shotgun metagenomic data showed a very high percentage of endogenous DNA with 22% of the assembled metagenomic contigs assigned to Xenarthra. Additionally, we enriched over 15 kb of sequence data from seven nuclear exons, using target sequence capture designed against a wide xenarthran dataset. Phylogenetic and dating analyses of the mitogenomic dataset including all extant species of xenarthrans and the assembled nuclear supermatrix unambiguously place Mylodon darwinii as the sister-group of modern two-fingered sloths, from which it diverged around 22 million years ago. These congruent results from both the mitochondria] and nuclear data support the diphyly of the two modem sloth lineages, implying the convergent evolution of their unique suspensory behaviour as an adaption to arboreality. Our results offer promising perspectives for whole-genome sequencing of this emblematic extinct taxon.
Heterozygosity at eight nuclear enzymatic loci and mitochondrial DNA control region (D‐loop) sequence polymorphism was compared between North and South American nine‐banded armadillos ( Dasypus novemcinctus : Xenarthra, Dasypodidae). All markers revealed a striking genetic homogeneity amongst Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi individuals, vs. the usual level of polymorphism for the French Guiana population. This may reflect a founder effect during colonization of North America. Occurrence of polymorphism in the D‐loop microsatellite motif of North American armadillos suggests a recent recovery of mitochondrial variability. Phylogeographic analyses using Dasypus kappleri as outgroup provides evidence for a clear separation between North and South American control region haplotypes.