Body mass estimation in xenarthra: A predictive equation suitable for all quadrupedal terrestrial placentals?



The Magnorder Xenarthra includes strange extinct groups, like glyptodonts, similar to large armadillos, and ground sloths, terrestrial relatives of the extant tree sloths. They have created considerable paleobiological interest in the last decades; however, the ecology of most of these species is still controversial or unknown. The body mass estimation of extinct species has great importance for paleobiological reconstructions. The commonest way to estimate body mass from fossils is through linear regression. However, if the studied species does not have similar extant relatives, the allometric pattern described by the regression could differ from those shown by the extinct group. That is the case for glyptodonts and ground sloths. Thus, stepwise multiple regression were developed including extant xenarthrans (their taxonomic relatives) and ungulates (their size and ecological relatives). Cases were weighted to maximize the taxonomic evenness. Twenty-eight equations were obtained. The distribution of the percent of prediction error (%PE) was analyzed between taxonomic groups (Perissodactyla, Artiodactyla, and Xenarthra) and size groups (0–20 kg, 20–300 kg, and more than 300 kg). To assess the predictive power of the functions, equations were applied to species not included in the regression development [test set cross validation, (TSCV)]. Only five equations had a homogeneous %PE between the aforementioned groups. These were applied to five extinct species. A mean body mass of 80 kg was estimated for Propalaehoplophorus australis (Cingulata: Glyptodontidae), 594 kg for Scelidotherium leptocephalum (Phyllophaga: Mylodontidae), and 3,550.7 kg for Lestodon armatus (Phyllophaga: Mylodontidae). The high scatter of the body mass estimations obtained for Catonyx tarijensis (Phyllophaga: Mylodontidae) and Thalassocnus natans (Phyllophaga: Megatheriidae), probably due to different specializations, prevented us from predicting its body mass. Surprisingly, although obtained from ungulates and xenarthrans, these five selected equations were also able to predict the body mass of species from groups as different as rodents, carnivores, hyracoideans, or tubulidentates. This result suggests the presence of a complex common allometric pattern for all quadrupedal placentals. J. Morphol., 2008. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.