A tiny, furry-tailed creature was the earliest ancestor of placental mammals — a widely diverse group of animals ranging from bats to humans — according to a new study by a team of international scientists, including a core group of Museum researchers. In findings published in the February 8 issue of the journal Science, the researchers analyzed the world’s largest dataset of genetic and physical traits to find that placental mammals diversified into present-day lineages much later than is commonly thought: after the extinction event 65 million years ago that eliminated non-avian dinosaurs. This finding, and the visualization of the placental ancestor — an insect-eating animal that weighed less than a pound — was made with the help of a cloud-based and publicly accessible database called MorphoBank.
MorphoBank is an initiative funded primarily by NSF with additional support from Stony Brook University, the American Museum of Natural History, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center.
credit: American Museum of Natural History