Article

Three terrestrial Pleistocene coucals ( Centropus : Cuculidae) from southern Australia: biogeographical and ecological significance

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Abstract

Coucals are large, predatory, primarily ground-dwelling cuckoos of the genus Centropus, with 26 extant species ranging from Africa to Australia. Their evolutionary and biogeographical history are poorly understood and their fossil record almost non-existent. Only one species (Centropus phasianinus) currently inhabits Australia, but there is now fossil evidence for at least three Pleistocene species. One of these (Centropus colossus) was described from south-eastern Australia in 1985. Here we describe additional elements of this species from the same site, and remains of two further extinct species from the Thylacoleo Caves of the Nullarbor Plain, south-central Australia. The skeletal morphology and large size of the three extinct species indicates that they had reduced capacity for flight and were probably primarily ground-dwelling. The extinct species include the two largest-known cuckoos, weighing upwards of 1 kg each. They demonstrate that gigantism in this lineage has been more marked in a continental context than on islands, contrary to the impression gained from extant species. The evolutionary relationships of the Australian fossil coucals are uncertain, but our phylogenetic analysis indicates a possible close relationship between one of the Nullarbor species and extant Centropus violaceus from the Bismarck Archipelago. The presence of three coucals in southern Australia markedly extends the geographical range of the genus from tropical Australia into southern temperate regions. This demonstrates the remarkable and consistent ability of coucals to colonize continents despite their very limited flying ability.

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... Also, the fossa musculo brachialis is oval and clearly defined. Specifically, in the specimen, the tuberculum supracondylare dorsale is more marked and dorsally protruding than in other cuculid genera such as Coccyzus, Morococcyx or Geococcyx, and Old World genera Clamator, Centropus and Eudynamys (Steadman, 2008;Shute et al., 2016). The observed condition for the proportion and shape of tuberculum supracondylare dorsale in respect to the condylus dorsalis curvature forms a broad and deep sulcus between them. ...
... The specimen has a fracture in the front face of this process, near to the fossa pneumotricipitatis which is small, well defined and with visible internal structure (Fig. 6g). Specifically, in Crotophaga this bone trait is shallow and the foramen usually single (Shufeldt, 1901) while it is wider in other cuculid genera such as Centropus (Shute et al., 2016). On the cranial surface (Fig. 6i, j) the intumescentia humeri is less inflated and the impression of the coracobrachialis is shallow and orientated proximodistally. ...
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... It is equally possible that pneumatizing the scapula and coracoid is an inherited derived trait from an ancestor, and the two species with apneumatic scapulae/coracoids represent a reversal to the basal state, a hypothesis supported by the estimated ancestral state for Centropodinae (Fig. 3). It is worth noting the extensive geographical distribution of Centropus (from Africa through Southeast Asia with recent fossil representatives present in southern Australia) despite modern taxa possessing poor flight capabilities, perhaps lending further support to a more volant ancestor (Shute et al., 2016). Following our previous hypothesis about resistance to mechanical loads, it is possible that pneumatizing elements of the shoulder girdle increases resistance to forces produced by muscles during flight, although such an inference requires a more detailed analysis of loading regimes in this clade (and birds in general). ...
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... Also, scanty notes on the biology of other coucal species have been published (e.g. (Rand 1933;Symmes 1960;Steyn 1972;Woodell 1976;Dhindsa & Toor 1981;Natarajan 1997;Payne 2005a;Erritzoe et al. 2012;Shute et al. 2016)). ...
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As an island continent restricted to the Southern Hemisphere, Australia's physiographic, climatic, and biotic histories are unique. This article reviews the records of Australian vertebrates in the middle Pleistocene, an interval of oscillating climate and high faunal diversity, most conspicuously among the larger species composing the ‘Pleistocene megafauna’. Australia is divided into eight provinces (major regions) based on modern climatic zones, and the distributions of vertebrates across these provinces are examined. Given the more complete nature of the records for Australian mammals (especially marsupials) compared with those of other vertebrate groups, these species are considered in most detail. Several major ‘time-averaged’ distribution patterns are evident, particularly among the herbivorous marsupials. These patterns are likely to have been determined by climatically and edaphically controlled distribution of major vegetation types.
Book
This work represents an exhaustive review of one of the most important late Cenozoic radiations of Australian marsupials: the short-faced, or sthenurine kangaroos. Sthenurines originated in the Miocene, diversified in the Pliocene, and radiated in the Quaternary to become one of Australia's most conspicuous mammal groups, the only lineage of browsing marsupials comparable in diversity to the browsing artiodactyl guilds of other continents. The culmination of 12 years' research, the monograph details the taxonomy of the sthenurines, redescribing each of the six genera (two new) and 26 species ( ... More This work represents an exhaustive review of one of the most important late Cenozoic radiations of Australian marsupials: the short-faced, or sthenurine kangaroos. Sthenurines originated in the Miocene, diversified in the Pliocene, and radiated in the Quaternary to become one of Australia's most conspicuous mammal groups, the only lineage of browsing marsupials comparable in diversity to the browsing artiodactyl guilds of other continents. The culmination of 12 years' research, the monograph details the taxonomy of the sthenurines, redescribing each of the six genera (two new) and 26 species (four new), and is illustrated with line drawings and more than 100 pages of plates. It presents a cladistic analysis of sthenurines, and by synthesizing systematic, functional morphological, biochronologic, and zoogeographic data, considers the major directions of adaptive change within the group, and the major environmental factors that drove their evolution. The book is a comprehensive study of an extinct marsupial lineage, and is a reference for students of Australian late Cenozoic vertebrates, marsupial evolution, environmental change, and Pleistocene extinctions.
Article
Crown group (neornithine birds) exhibit a great variation in the morphology of the hypotarsus, a structure on the proximal end of the tarsometatarsus, which guides the tendons of the flexor muscles of the toes. Hypotarsus morphology is of significance for the identification of fossil taxa, and several extant groups show characteristic patterns that are of phylogenetic interest. So far, however, the diversity of hypotarsus morphologies has been little studied, and there are no comprehensive studies across all neornithine birds. In particular, the identities of the involved canals and sulci remain elusive, and some confusion exists about their correct homologies. In this study, hypotarsus morphologies are for the first time surveyed among all extant birds, and basic patterns are characterized. Instances are identified, in which particular hypotarsus morphologies are correlated with certain locomotion types, inferences are made about possible ancestral morphologies, and some patterns of phylogenetic interest are discussed.
Book
— We studied sequence variation in 16S rDNA in 204 individuals from 37 populations of the land snail Candidula unifasciata (Poiret 1801) across the core species range in France, Switzerland, and Germany. Phylogeographic, nested clade, and coalescence analyses were used to elucidate the species evolutionary history. The study revealed the presence of two major evolutionary lineages that evolved in separate refuges in southeast France as result of previous fragmentation during the Pleistocene. Applying a recent extension of the nested clade analysis (Templeton 2001), we inferred that range expansions along river valleys in independent corridors to the north led eventually to a secondary contact zone of the major clades around the Geneva Basin. There is evidence supporting the idea that the formation of the secondary contact zone and the colonization of Germany might be postglacial events. The phylogeographic history inferred for C. unifasciata differs from general biogeographic patterns of postglacial colonization previously identified for other taxa, and it might represent a common model for species with restricted dispersal.
Book
Third volume of exhaustive seven-volume summary of all that is known of the birds of the Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic region. [1028 pages, colour plates]
Article
Observations are presented of the breeding biology of the Pheasant Coucal Centropus phasianinus at Townsville, north Queensland. Nests were dome-shaped structures, lined with eucalypt leaves and twigs, built close to the ground in grass clumps. Twelve of the 13 nests were associated with the introduced Chinee Apple Zizyphus mauritiana. Nesting occurred early in the wet season and four broods were followed during development. Hatching was asynchronous, spread over up to six days. Nestlings fledged asynchronously and the mean nestling period of 12.6 days (range 10-15 days) was appropriate to a much smaller species. At fledging, young had attained only 40% of adult male weight, with wing 32% and tarsus 90% of adult measurement; they thus fledged well before they were fully grown, after a short nestling period. All four nests succeeded in fledging at least one young and it is suggested that fledging early in development is an adaptation that reduces nest predation.
Article
From traits of sex, age, and nuptial and non-breeding plumages, subspecies of Centropusphasianinus within Australia are described, relating size of wing, tail and bill to latitude. Races in New Guinea are also re-evaluated. Six subspecies of Centropus phasianinus are recognised: two from Australia (phasianinus in the south-east and melanurus in the north), three from New Guinea (propinquus in the north, nigricans in the southeast and thierfelderi in the south), and one from Timor (mui subsp. nov. - Mason & McKean). These subspecies are diagnosed by size of wing, tail and bill and plumage colour. In eastern Australia there is an abrupt change in length of wing and tail within the region of the Burdekin Valley, indicating past geographical isolation and secondary contact. New Guinea populations appear to continue the clinal trends in size of south-eastern Australian birds but interposed between them is the larger form across northern Australia. A preliminary outline on relationships of Centropus within the Australo-Papuan region is discussed, based on what is known about their external morphology and ecology. It is suggested that C. phasianinus entered Australia from New Guinea and entered Timor from Australia.
Article
Bohra nullarbora sp. nov. is described from a partial skeleton collected from a diverse Pleistocene vertebrate assemblage preserved in Leaena’s Breath Cave, Nullarbor Plain, Western Australia. It is distinguished from its Nullarbor contemporary, B. illuminata, by having different cranial proportions, smaller cheek teeth and a relatively narrower upper premolar. It also differs in a number of postcranial attributes, which may reflect slight variation in locomotory capabilities. The unexpected discovery that, in the relatively recent geological past, two large arboreal kangaroos inhabited the now ‘Treeless’ Plain effectively highlights how little we still know about the Pleistocene history of Western Australia, and of the drier regions of the continent in general.
Article
This paper describes a new tree-kangaroo of the extinct genus Bohra (B. illuminata sp. nov.). Its remains were collected from a diverse middle Pleistocene fauna preserved in caves recently discovered beneath the Nullarbor Plain of south-central Australia. The adult holotype and juvenile paratype are represented by associated cranial and postcranial material. They confirm that two previously known species, B. paulae and B. wilkinsonorum, which were described on the basis of disparate parts of the skeleton, are congeneric. While Bohra is closest in morphology to the extant tree-kangaroo genus Dendrolagus, it shares several similarities with Petrogale (rock-wallabies). This is consistent with recent molecular studies that suggest that tree-kangaroos and rock-wallabies share a common ancestry.