Postdoctoral Fellow

The evolution of mammalian fossoriality: causes and consequences

PI(s): Samantha Hopkins
Start Date: 1-Aug-2006
End Date: 31-Aug-2007
Keywords: adaptation, evolutionary novelty

While nearly all mammals are capable of digging, a number of species have made a lifestyle of excavation, constructing large, complex burrows and often collecting food below ground. Some, such as moles, rarely emerge above the ground. Fossorial (digging) life habits have evolved numerous times through the history of mammals, although fossorial mammals did not become extremely common and widespread until the middle Cenozoic, around 35 million years ago. At this time, many clades convergently evolved similar morphologies for digging, and several of those clades have become progressively better adapted for digging. The evolution of fossoriality provides an ideal study system for consideration of the course of convergent evolution of complex adaptations, as well as for consideration of the differences between key innovations and evolutionary specialization. This study aims to assemble and apply a phylogenetic framework to reconstructing the reasons for and results of the evolution of a digging life habit. By assembling evolutionary histories of the clades in which fossoriality evolved, as well as modern and fossil ecological data, I will rigorously determine the course of evolution of this feature, summarizing the commonalities and the unique features of its evolution in diverse groups.

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