Cheek tooth morphology and ancient mitochondrial DNA of late Pleistocene horses from the western interior of North America: Implications for the taxonomy of North American Late Pleistocene Equus

Horses were a dominant component of North American Pleistocene land mammal communities and their remains are well represented in the fossil record. Despite the abundant material available for study, there is still considerable disagreement over the number of species of Equus that inhabited the different regions of the continent and on their taxonomic nomenclature. In this study, we investigated cheek tooth morphology and ancient mtDNA of late Pleistocene Equus specimens from the Western Interior of North America, with the objective of clarifying the species that lived in this region prior to the end-Pleistocene extinction. Based on the morphological and molecular data analyzed, a caballine (Equus ferus) and a non-caballine (E. conversidens) species were identified from different localities across most of the Western Interior. A second non-caballine species (E. cedralensis) was recognized from southern localities based exclusively on the morphological analyses of the cheek teeth. Notably the separation into caballine and non-caballine species was observed in the Bayesian phylogenetic analysis of ancient mtDNA as well as in the geometric morphometric analyses of the upper and lower premolars. Teeth morphologically identified as E. conversidens that yielded ancient mtDNA fall within the New World stilt-legged clade recognized in previous studies and this is the name we apply to this group. Geographic variation in morphology in the caballine species is indicated by statistically different occlusal enamel patterns in the specimens from Bluefish Caves, Yukon Territory, relative to the specimens from the other geographic regions. Whether this represents ecomorphological variation and/or a certain degree of geographic and genetic isolation of these Arctic populations requires further study.
Teeth, Dentition, Pleistocene epoch, Mitochondrial DNA, Horses, Morphometry, Taxonomy, Phylogenetic analysis
Barrón-Ortiz, C. I., Rodrigues, A. T., Theodor, J. M., Kooyman, B. P., Yang, D. Y., & Speller, C. F. (2017). Cheek tooth morphology and ancient mitochondrial DNA of late pleistocene horses from the western interior of north america: Implications for the taxonomy of north american late pleistocene equus. PLoS One, 12(8), e0183045. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0183045