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Evolution of the Placenta and Fetal Membranes Seen in the Light of Molecular Phylogenetics


Evolution of the Placenta and Fetal Membranes Seen in the Light of Molecular Phylogenetics

A M Carter. Placenta.


Recent analyses of nucleotide sequence data suggest that living placental mammals belong to one of four superorders. The early divergence of these groups was followed by long periods of geographical isolation, due to the break up of continental land masses, allowing for convergent evolution of similar traits in different superorders. As an example, the transition from epitheliochorial to haemochorial placentation occurred independently in bats, rodents, anthropoid primates, armadillos and others. A group of ancient African mammals is suggested by the molecular data, but is not fully supported by morphological evidence. The hypothesis is, however, consistent with some of the data on fetal membranes, suggesting that it would be worthwhile to study the early development of tenrecs, golden moles and elephant shrews. Analyses of fetal membrane traits that group the tarsiers with anthropoid primates, and separate them from the lemurs, are challenged by the molecular data. Other relatives of the primates seem to include tree shrews and flying lemurs, and little is known about the fetal membranes of the latter group. Comparative studies of placental function normally are confined to primates, rodents, lagomorphs and domestic animals: the biological diversity represented by mammals that evolved in ancient Africa and South America is not represented. Therefore, future comparative studies should strive to include species such as the rock hyrax and the armadillo.

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