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Concept: Odd-toed ungulate


An equine SNP genotyping array was developed and evaluated on a panel of samples representing 14 domestic horse breeds and 18 evolutionarily related species. More than 54,000 polymorphic SNPs provided an average inter-SNP spacing of ∼43 kb. The mean minor allele frequency across domestic horse breeds was 0.23, and the number of polymorphic SNPs within breeds ranged from 43,287 to 52,085. Genome-wide linkage disequilibrium (LD) in most breeds declined rapidly over the first 50-100 kb and reached background levels within 1-2 Mb. The extent of LD and the level of inbreeding were highest in the Thoroughbred and lowest in the Mongolian and Quarter Horse. Multidimensional scaling (MDS) analyses demonstrated the tight grouping of individuals within most breeds, close proximity of related breeds, and less tight grouping in admixed breeds. The close relationship between the Przewalski’s Horse and the domestic horse was demonstrated by pair-wise genetic distance and MDS. Genotyping of other Perissodactyla (zebras, asses, tapirs, and rhinoceros) was variably successful, with call rates and the number of polymorphic loci varying across taxa. Parsimony analysis placed the modern horse as sister taxa to Equus przewalski. The utility of the SNP array in genome-wide association was confirmed by mapping the known recessive chestnut coat color locus (MC1R) and defining a conserved haplotype of ∼750 kb across all breeds. These results demonstrate the high quality of this SNP genotyping resource, its usefulness in diverse genome analyses of the horse, and potential use in related species.

Concepts: Rhinoceros, Tarpan, Odd-toed ungulate, Population genetics, Przewalski's Horse, Genetics, Equus, Horse


Referential communication occurs when a sender elaborates its gestures to direct the attention of a recipient to its role in pursuit of the desired goal, e.g. by pointing or showing an object, thereby informing the recipient what it wants. If the gesture is successful, the sender and the recipient focus their attention simultaneously on a third entity, the target. Here we investigated the ability of domestic horses (Equus caballus) to communicate referentially with a human observer about the location of a desired target, a bucket of food out of reach. In order to test six operational criteria of referential communication, we manipulated the recipient’s (experimenter) attentional state in four experimental conditions: frontally oriented, backward oriented, walking away from the arena and frontally oriented with other helpers present in the arena. The rate of gaze alternation was higher in the frontally oriented condition than in all the others. The horses appeared to use both indicative (pointing) and non-indicative (nods and shakes) head gestures in the relevant test conditions. Horses also elaborated their communication by switching from a visual to a tactile signal and demonstrated perseverance in their communication. The results of the tests revealed that horses used referential gestures to manipulate the attention of a human recipient so to obtain an unreachable resource. These are the first such findings in an ungulate species.

Concepts: Donkey, Domestication of the horse, Odd-toed ungulate, Equus, Equidae, Wild horse, Gesture, Horse


Gastric impaction in the horse is poorly described in the veterinary literature.

Concepts: Veterinary medicine, Odd-toed ungulate, Wild horse, Mammal, Horse colic, Veterinarian, Horse


Dromedary camels are large even-toed ungulates which are well adapted to life in large deserts. Examinations of their feet have revealed many structural peculiarities. We have measured the digital bones of the dromedary in order to determine whether there are morphometric variations in the digital bones between the lateral and medial sides in individual limbs and/or in the right and left thoracic and pelvic limbs, with the aim to clarify whether there are anatomical differences in the digital bones of dromedary as a suborder of the order Artiodactyla. Measurements were made of 240 lateral and medial proximal, middle, and distal phalanges in the left and right thoracic and pelvic limbs of ten healthy adult male dromedaries, ranging in age from 6 to 10 years. A total of 17 linear dimensions were measured using a caliper. The results indicate that there are no significant differences between corresponding measurements of digital bones of the lateral and medial in the same limb, nor between measurements of the right and left sides. The lengths and widths of the proximal and middle, and distal phalanges in the thoracic limb were found to be greater than those of the pelvic limb. The sum of the total lengths of the three phalanges of the thoracic limbs was 15 mm greater than that of the phalanges of the pelvic limbs due to a longer proximal phalanx (76 %) and middle phalanx of the former (24 %). The perspectives obtained by our morphometric study of dromedary digital bones not only provide a tool to distinguish the osteological remains of the dromedary from those of the Bactrian camel or other artiodactyls in archaeological sites, but they also suggest a possible influence of digital structure on digit functions and digital disorders.

Concepts: Tylopoda, French Revolution, Deer, Camelid, Odd-toed ungulate, Dromedary, Even-toed ungulate, Camel


Cambaytheres (Cambaytherium, Nakusia and Kalitherium) are recently discovered early Eocene placental mammals from the Indo-Pakistan region. They have been assigned to either Perissodactyla (the clade including horses, tapirs and rhinos, which is a member of the superorder Laurasiatheria) or Anthracobunidae, an obscure family that has been variously considered artiodactyls or perissodactyls, but most recently placed at the base of Proboscidea or of Tethytheria (Proboscidea+Sirenia, superorder Afrotheria). Here we report new dental, cranial and postcranial fossils of Cambaytherium, from the Cambay Shale Formation, Gujarat, India (~54.5 Myr). These fossils demonstrate that cambaytheres occupy a pivotal position as the sister taxon of Perissodactyla, thereby providing insight on the phylogenetic and biogeographic origin of Perissodactyla. The presence of the sister group of perissodactyls in western India near or before the time of collision suggests that Perissodactyla may have originated on the Indian Plate during its final drift toward Asia.

Concepts: Odd-toed ungulate, Eocene, Rhinoceros, Eutheria, Horse, Cladistics, Afrotheria, Mammal


Since the late eighteenth century, fossils of bizarre extinct creatures have been described from the Americas, revealing a previously unimagined chapter in the history of mammals. The most bizarre of these are the ‘native’ South American ungulates thought to represent a group of mammals that evolved in relative isolation on South America, but with an uncertain affinity to any particular placental lineage. Many authors have considered them descended from Laurasian ‘condylarths’, which also includes the probable ancestors of perissodactyls and artiodactyls, whereas others have placed them either closer to the uniquely South American xenarthrans (anteaters, armadillos and sloths) or the basal afrotherians (e.g. elephants and hyraxes). These hypotheses have been debated owing to conflicting morphological characteristics and the hitherto inability to retrieve molecular information. Of the ‘native’ South American mammals, only the toxodonts and litopterns persisted until the Late Pleistocene-Early Holocene. Owing to known difficulties in retrieving ancient DNA (aDNA) from specimens from warm climates, this research presents a molecular phylogeny for both Macrauchenia patachonica (Litopterna) and Toxodon platensis (Notoungulata) recovered using proteomics-based (liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry) sequencing analyses of bone collagen. The results place both taxa in a clade that is monophyletic with the perissodactyls, which today are represented by horses, rhinoceroses and tapirs.

Concepts: Evolution, Odd-toed ungulate, Tapir, Horse, Xenarthra, Americas, South America, Mammal


Postures have long been used and proved useful to describe animals' behaviours and emotional states, but remains difficult to assess objectively in field conditions. A recent study performed on horses using geometric morphometrics revealed important postural differences between 2 horse populations differing in management conditions (leisure horses living in social groups used for occasional “relaxed” riding/riding school horses living in individual boxes used in daily riding lessons with more constraining techniques). It was suggested that these postural differences may reflect chronic effects of riding techniques on the horses' kinematics and muscular development. In the present study, we tried to evaluate the interest of postural measures to assess welfare in horses. This study was separated into 2 parts. First, 18 horses coming from these 2 types of populations (leisure/riding school horses) were submitted to 2 back evaluations by 1) manual examination (experienced practitioner) and 2) sEMG measures along the spine. We then measured neck roundness on 16 of these 18 horses. The results highlighted high correlations between manual and sEMG examinations over the spine. sEMG measures at the different locations were strongly correlated all over the spine. Moreover, neck postures and muscular activities were strongly correlated, horses with concave necks having higher sEMG measures both at precise locations (i.e. cervical sites) but also when comparing neck postures to the whole spine muscular activity highlighting the functioning of horses' back as a whole. Lastly, strong differences appeared between the populations, leisure horses being evaluated as having sounder spines, exhibiting lower sEMG measures and rounder neck than the riding school horses. sEMG measures and neck “roundness” seemed therefore to be reliable indicators of back disorders, easy to evaluate in field conditions. This highlights the accuracy of using postural elements to evaluate the animals' general state and has important implications for animals' welfare evaluations.

Concepts: Odd-toed ungulate, The Spine, Evaluation, Vertebral column, Equidae, Equus, Horse, Wild horse


The Kanapoi collection of Rhinocerotidae, first studied by Hooijer and Patterson (1972), now consists of 25 specimens and substantial reinterpretation of their affinities is made here. Kanapoi post-dates the extinction of Brachypotherium and the whole collection belongs to the Dicerotini. It is important because it includes the type-specimen of Diceros praecox, a species that remains poorly known, but looks slightly larger and more primitive than the modern ‘black’ rhino, Diceros bicornis. A second species is probably ancestral to the modern ‘white’ rhino, Ceratotherium simum; it looks identical to the Pleistocene North African Ceratotherium mauritanicum, of which Ceratotherium efficax is probably a synonym. The evolution of the Dicerotini in Africa can be regarded as an increasing divergence in diet and related morphofunctional adaptations in the two lineages. The co-occurrence at Kanapoi of both Diceros and Ceratotherium, with distinct dietary preferences, suggests some habitat heterogeneity, although the low sample size prevents robust paleoecological conclusions. The Equidae are also rare and consist mostly of isolated teeth. I take the most parsimonious option of tentatively including all of them in a single species, whose identification is left open. Dental features of eastern African Pliocene to Pleistocene hipparions may reflect increasing adaptation to grazing.

Concepts: Rhinoceroses, Odd-toed ungulate, Horse, International Rhino Foundation, Africa, White Rhinoceros, Black Rhinoceros, Rhinoceros


Haemosporida parasites of even-toed ungulates are diverse and globally distributed, but since their discovery in 1913 their characterization has relied exclusively on microscopy-based descriptions. In order to bring molecular approaches to bear on the identity and evolutionary relationships of ungulate malaria parasites, we conducted Plasmodium cytb-specific nested PCR surveys using blood from water buffalo in Vietnam and Thailand, and goats in Zambia. We found that Plasmodium is readily detectable from water buffalo in these countries, indicating that buffalo Plasmodium is distributed in a wider region than India, which is the only area in which buffalo Plasmodium has been reported. Two types (I and II) of Plasmodium sequences were identified from water buffalo and a third type (III) was isolated from goat. Morphology of the parasite was confirmed in Giemsa-reagent stained blood smears for the Type I sample. Complete mitochondrial DNA sequences were isolated and used to infer a phylogeny in which ungulate malaria parasites form a monophyletic clade within the Haemosporida, and branch prior to the clade containing bird, lizard and other mammalian Plasmodium. Thus it is likely that host switching of Plasmodium from birds to mammals occurred multiple times, with a switch to ungulates independently from other mammalian Plasmodium.

Concepts: Clade, Malaria, Odd-toed ungulate, Plasmodium, DNA, Even-toed ungulate, Goat, Deer


A reduction in the number of digits has evolved many times in tetrapods, particularly in cursorial mammals that travel over deserts and plains, yet the underlying developmental mechanisms have remained elusive. Here we show that digit loss can occur both during early limb patterning and at later post-patterning stages of chondrogenesis. In the ‘odd-toed’ jerboa (Dipus sagitta) and horse and the ‘even-toed’ camel, extensive cell death sculpts the tissue around the remaining toes. In contrast, digit loss in the pig is orchestrated by earlier limb patterning mechanisms including downregulation of Ptch1 expression but no increase in cell death. Together these data demonstrate remarkable plasticity in the mechanisms of vertebrate limb evolution and shed light on the complexity of morphological convergence, particularly within the artiodactyl lineage.

Concepts: Gene expression, Bird, Paleontology, Odd-toed ungulate, Evolution, Pig, Camel, Even-toed ungulate