Plos One said:We can now document the history of an extraordinary fossil, here named Darwinius masillae. Its two parts, although split by private collectors and dispersed to two continents, are virtually reunited here 26 years after discovery. The fossil, including an entire soft body outline (preserved in the Oslo specimen) as well as contents of the digestive tract (investigated in the Wyoming specimen), documents paleobiology and morphology of an extinct early primate from the Eocene of Germany.
After comparative study, we conclude that the Darwinius holotype was a juvenile female, weaned and feeding independently on fruit and leaves in the middle floor of early Middle Eocene rain forest of Messel. She may have been nocturnal. She moved as an agile, nail bearing arboreal quadruped and, although perhaps only 60 percent of adult weight at death (Fig. 12), would have grown to be the size of an adult female Hapalemur, in the range of 650–900 g. Her pattern of tooth development shows that her species grew up fairly quickly and suggests that she died before one year of age.
Darwinius masillae is now the third primate species from the Messel locality that belongs to the cercamoniine adapiforms, in addition to Europolemur koenigswaldi and E. kelleri. Darwinius masillae is unrelated to Godinotia neglecta from Geiseltal, which was much more slenderly built. Darwinius and Godinotia neglecta are similar, however, in the degree of reduction of their antemolar dentition. Morphological characteristics preserved in Darwinius masillae enable a rigorous comparison with the two principal subdivisions of living primates: Strepsirrhini and Haplorhini. Defining characters of Darwinius ally it with early haplorhines rather than strepsirrhines. We do not interpret Darwinius as anthropoid, but the adapoid primates it represents deserve more careful comparison with higher primates than they have received in the past.
Darwinius masillae is important in being exceptionally well preserved and providing a much more complete understanding of the paleobiology of an Eocene primate than was available in the past.
paleontologist Jorn Hurum, who led the team that analyzed the 47-million-year-old fossil, suggests Ida is a critical missing-link species in primate evolution
The fossil, he says, bridges the evolutionary split between higher primates such as monkeys, apes, and humans and their more distant relatives such as lemurs.
Ida, properly known as Darwinius masillae, has a unique anatomy. The lemur-like skeleton features primate-like characteristics, including grasping hands, opposable thumbs, clawless digits with nails, and relatively short limbs.
At least one aspect of Ida is unquestionably unique: her incredible preservation, unheard of in specimens from the Eocene era, when early primates underwent a period of rapid evolution.
In Ida's case, scientists were able to examine fossil evidence of fur and soft tissue and even picked through the remains of her last meal: fruits, seeds, and leaves.
What's more, the newly described "missing link" was found in Germany's Messel Pit. Ida's European origins are intriguing, Richmond said, because they could suggest—contrary to common assumptions—that the continent was an important area for primate evolution.
47 million years ago, Ida's rainforest was located on the same latitude as the southern coast of present day Spain. Floral and faunal fossils indicate that Ida lived in a warm, humid rainforest that teemed with life. Over 300 species of plants and animals have been identified - but these represent only a fraction of the life that existed here as much of the plant life would have quickly rotted in the moist jungle heat.
Any evolutionary biologists here? What do you think?
Unknown said:Where there was only one gap in the evolutionary record for creationists to complain about, now there are two.
"... a potential common ancestor to both humans and lemurs ..."
I don't think we should leap to conclusions about the nature of this find. The paper they sent out doesn't mention any kind of 'missing link', and is very cautious in how it is written regarding this concept.
Well any new fossil find that uncovers a previously unknown species (especially from the era from which this specimen came from where there is so little data), is very valuable regardless of whether or not it is a "direct" descedent.
As Moridin pointed out, it's not so much a "missing link" as it is a "missing branch" of the tree of life. And this one in particular that seems to be near the beginning of the emergence of primates is a great piece to add to the puzzle! (assuming no hoaxes, of course)
Mr. Jørn Hurum, who is a somewhat flamboyant Norwegian paleontologist (if that is possible!), is also a shrewd media manipulator.
He knows that the find and the two years of research prior to publication (!) stands very well on its own, scientifically speaking.
It is a tremendously important find, mainly due to its extremely good state of preservation (rather than being some sort of critical link).
However, Mr. Hurum wants more:
Namely to whip up non-paleontological enthusiasm for Ida (incidentally named after his own 6-year old daughter..), and to get the media going, he uses the "missing link" metaphor, since "missing links" sounds so mysterious and exciting...
While this is true enough, it has very limited meaning. We don't find "common ancestors"; and there's no way to tell if you have a "common ancestor". What you may have is a species which is close to the line of ancestry, but you can never actually tell if a particular fossil represents a species that became extinct (the most usual case!) or a species that went on to to be ancestral to other species now living.
PS. Note that I am not presenting this ias skepticism about the find, but about the nature of fossils and the general form of scientific inferences from fossils. I'm emphasizing "cladistic" reasoning. Finds like this this are exciting and tell us lots about the nature of our evolutionary history, and hence about our ancestry. Meanginful falsifiable conclusions and hypotheses about fossil are about whether it is more or less closely related: not about whether it is directly ancestral or not. Being "directly" ancestral is an amusing speeculation. The real information being obtained, however, is a phylogeny. The questions are never -- is this ancestral to that, but is this more closely related to that than to something else?
In other words, the scientific inference is not about ancetry relationships between fossils, or species, but inferences about which fossils have the most recent common ancestors. It's a subtle difference, but worth understanding.
Fortunately, within rigorous sciences, like paleontology, it doesn't matter much if a scientist is a bit too transparent in his desire to make his own name larger.Having just seen the whole presentation of The Link on the History Channel, it looks to me like it is an interesting find ... but not necessarily a missing link in any extraordinary direct sense. (Though from 47 million years ago, maybe that's close enough.) It's a transitional specimen from a time where the record is incomplete and it is neither necessarily lemur nor human. (Simian nor anthropoid.) So it comes as a remarkably complete specimen, which I think is maybe the more important contribution it may make.
Hurum himself makes me a little uncomfortable. It looks to me reading between the lines that Hurum wants to take credit in the worst way and promote himself as important as Leakey or Johanson (Lucy). If he could, I think he would just give himself a Nobel for scrounging the fossil from a dealer at a fossil show. (It was extracted decades ago and was apparently sitting in someone's drawer.)
He clearly wants it to be a missing link - from the beginning of his tale. That makes me a little suspicious of his objectivity.