Aquatic mammal fossils in Latin America – a review of records, advances and challenges in research in the last 30 years
Records of aquatic mammal fossils (e.g. cetaceans, pinnipeds, sirenians, mustelids, and desmostylians) from Latin America (Mexico to Tierra del Fuego, including Antartica) span since the mid-1800s. Aquatic mammal fossils received little attention from the scientific community, with most of the first studies conducted by Northern Hemisphere researchers. Over the last 30 years, paleontological research in Latin America has increased considerably, with descriptions of several new species and revisions of published original records. The Latin American fossil record of marine mammals spans from the Eocene to the Pleistocene, with formations and specimens of global significance. All three main groups of cetaceans are represented in the continent (Archaeoceti, Mysticeti, and Odontoceti). Pinnipedia are represented by the families Otariidae and Phocidae, with records starting in the Middle Miocene. Both living families of Sirenia (Trichechidae and Dugongidae) are recorded. While less common, but still relevant, records of desmostylians and mustelids are known from Oligocene and Miocene deposits. This review provides a summary of the aquatic mammals known to date, with a special focus on the advances and developments of the last 30 years, since Cozzuol’s (1996) review of the South American fossil record. An up-to-date complete list of species based on the literature and unpublished data is also provided. The study also provides future directions for paleontological research in Latin America, and discusses the challenges and opportunities in the field, including the emergence of a strong new generation of Latin American researchers, many of whom are women.
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