Honors College
 

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Publication Date

5-2013

Abstract

Marsupials are a group of mammals that give birth to young that are not fully developed. These offspring must complete the remainder of their development outside of the womb attached to their mother’s teat. Marsupials only occur in South America and Australasia, with one species extending into North America. The marsupial known as the monito del monte, which is Spanish for ‘little monkey of the mountain,’ (Dromiciops gliroides) is a South American marsupial; however, it shares a key morphological feature of ankle bone morphology with Australasian marsupials. This shared, derived trait is what defines the cohort Australidelphia, to which the four Australasian orders of marsupials and the monito del monte belong. Because of this placement, the monito del monte appears to be a link between the South American and Australasian marsupials. By reviewing phylogenetic studies on marsupials, fossil evidence, biogeography, and extinct and extant marsupial and placental mammals of Australasia and South America, it is anticipated that the evolutionary history of marsupials will be better understood. The role of the monito del monte is pivotal in this story. The close relationship between the monito del monte and the Australasian marsupials was strongly supported by molecular, biogeographic, and fossil evidence, in addition to morphology. This thesis hypothesized that an ancient American marsupial dispersed across the supercontinent Gondwana and gave rise to the Australidelphians. Subsequently, dispersal is what brought the monito del monte to South America. Therefore, the Australidelphians, including the monito del monte, originated in Australasia.

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