Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences
Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences

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OSU-CHS News > 2016

April 21, 2016

OSU-CHS vertebrate paleontologist seeks secret of longevity for ancient mammals

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An Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences researcher is studying the evolutionary history of one of the world’s longest lasting groups of mammals.

Anne Weil, Ph.D., associate professor of anatomy and vertebrate paleontologist, wants to know how multituberculates – an ancient line of rodent-like mammals that lived during the same time as dinosaurs – radiated after nearly going extinct in the same event that wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

“In the late Cretaceous period, they were diverse and distributed across the world,” she said. “Then more than half of them went extinct.”

The fossil record of multituberculates after that event reveals an extensive period of evolutionary change that led to great versatility in their adaptation to the environment.

“Multituberculates have a fascinating evolutionary history,” Weil said. “They are one of the most successful mammalian lineages to existed, yet they have no living descendants.”

Multituberculates disappeared about 35 million years ago and vertebrate paleontologists like Weil are looking to determine the reason for the extinction.

“By studying the skull, teeth and skeleton, I can reconstruct how multituberculates and other small mammals interacted and competed with one another through time,” she said. “These interactions probably changed throughout their evolutionary history.”

“Their evolutionary story is incredibly interesting to us,” Weil said. “We can still find multituberculate fossils today in Oklahoma and the neighboring states of Texas, New Mexico and Colorado.”

To learn more about research at OSU-CHS, visit the Research Spotlight website.

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