Scientists are always digging for new evidence that will help them understand how the animals looked millions of years ago. Their discoveries add new pieces to the big puzzle that is evolution. The recent discovery comes from Kansas where paleontologists unearthed what seem to be the fossilized remains of a 300-million-year-old herbivore species that could be the earliest ancestors of the modern plant eating land animals.
The researchers from the University of Toronto may have found the missing evidence of how herbivores come from carnivores. They have found the remains of a species called Eocasea martini. The fossils found in Kansas are believed to belong to one on the oldest ancestor of our modern herbivore mammals.
Paleontologist Robert Reisz, professor in the Department of Biology said that “The evolution of herbivores was revolutionary to life on land because it meant terrestrial vertebrates could directly access the vast resources provided by terrestrial plants. These herbivores in turn became a major food resource for large land predators.”
The 300-million-year-old herbivore discovered by the team of paleontologists consists of parts of the skull, the pelvis, the back limb and most of its vertebral column. The scientist then started comparing the skeleton’s anatomy to other related mammals in order to trace the origins. What they found was that the recently discovered fossils belong to a branch of animals called the Caseid of the group Synapsid. The Synapsid includes land herbivores and other large predators which evolved into the modern living mammals.
The recent study also included paleontologist Jorg Frobish from the University of Berlin who works for the Museum fur Naturkunde and Humboldt. He said about the 300-million-year-old herbivore: “Eocasea is one of the oldest relatives of modern mammals and closes a gap of about 20 million years to the next youngest members of the caseid family. This shows that caseid synapsids were much more ancient than previously documented in the fossil record.”
The new findings show that Eocasea is actually one of the first animals to bring a change that resulted in a terrestrial ecosystem.
The new findings revealed that the herbivory type of feeding didn’t start with reptiles but among distant relatives of mammals.
300-million-year-old herbivore raises new questions on the evolution of plant-eating mammals
Reizs stated that “the discovery of Eocasea creates questions even as it answers them. One of the great mysteries to my mind is: why did herbivory not happen before and why did it happen independently in several lineages? That’s what’s fascinating about this event. It’s the first such occurrence, and it resulted in a colossal change in our terrestrial ecosystem.”