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When Teeth and Bones Disagree: Body Mass Estimation of a Giant Extinct Rodent

Virginie Millien and Helene Bovy
Journal of Mammalogy
Vol. 91, No. 1 (Feb., 2010), pp. 11-18
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27755167
Page Count: 8
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Abstract

Body size is correlated with virtually every morphological, physiological, and life-history trait in mammal species. As a consequence, estimates of body size of fossil species are often used for paleoecological reconstructions. Characters used as proxies for body mass in extinct species include teeth, skull, and skeletal measurements. We show that the body-mass estimates of extinct species from living taxa can be misleading and depend largely on the morphological variable selected as a proxy for body mass. We also discuss statistical tools that are available to assess the accuracy of body-mass estimates in extinct species. Here, we focus on the revision of the mass estimate of the giant Miocene fossil rodent Phoberomys pattersoni (Venezuela), the 2nd largest rodent ever reported, with an estimated body mass between 436 and 741 kg. This is far beyond the range of average body masses in living rodents, which vary from several grams to 40 kg. We conclude that body mass of Phoberomys was most likely overestimated. The species P. pattersoni likely weighed between 220 kg and 280 kg, the mass of a horse or a large antelope.

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