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Convergent evolution: Researcher “amazed” by similarities between long-extinct marine reptiles and modern life forms that are NOT their descendants

Extinct plesiosaur (top) and a living crocodile (bottom), inner ear highlighted in pink/James Neenan

From ScienceDaily:

Researchers were surprised when sauropterygians with very different lifestyles had evolved inner ears that were very similar to those of some modern animals.

“Sauropterygians are completely extinct and have no living descendants,” said Dr James Neenan, lead author of the study. “So I was amazed to see that nearshore species with limbs that resemble those of terrestrial animals had ears similar to crocodylians, and that the fully-aquatic, flippered plesiosaurs had ears similar to sea turtles.”

The similarities don’t end there. Some groups of plesiosaurs, the ‘pliosauromorphs’, evolved enormous heads and very short necks, a body shape that is shared by modern whales. Whales have the unusual feature of highly miniaturized inner ears (blue whales have a similar-sized inner ear to humans), possibly the result of having such a short neck. Neenan and colleagues have now shown that ‘pliosauromorph’ plesiosaurs also have a reduced inner ear size, supporting this idea.

These interesting results are the product of convergent evolution, the process in which completely unrelated organisms evolve similar solutions to the same evolutionary hurdles. Paper. (paywall) – James M. Neenan, Tobias Reich, Serjoscha W. Evers, Patrick S. Druckenmiller, Dennis F.A.E. Voeten, Jonah N. Choiniere, Paul M. Barrett, Stephanie E. Pierce, Roger B.J. Benson. Evolution of the Sauropterygian Labyrinth with Increasingly Pelagic Lifestyles. Current Biology, 2017; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.10.069 More.

Evolution is more interesting when we leave Darwin out of it.

See also: Convergent evolution?: After millions of years of evolution, bamboo lemurs share 48 gut microbes with giant pandas and red pandas But share only eight gut microbes with their closely related cousins, the ringtail lemurs. This is not a neat Darwinian picture. Findings like this offer a caution flag for sweeping generalizations based on ancestry. Ancestry may not be as important as we think in evolution.

Stake in heart of school Darwinism lesson: Bilaterian nerve cords probably evolved many times


Evolution appears to converge on goals—but in Darwinian terms, is that possible?

Haven't we seen those folks being "amazed" by many things lately? Or "surprised" by their "unexpected" findings? Well, we ain't seen nothing yet. The most fascinating discoveries are still ahead. The most fundamental part of the multilayer controls in the biological systems still remain poorly understood at best. They are "amazed" by the cacophony produced by the orchestra musicians tuning their instruments, long before the curtains open and the orchestra performs the most beautiful music while the enchanting ballet choreography is displayed before us. When that happens we will all be speechless. Dionisio

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