Author Interview – New phiocricetomyine rodents from the Jebel Qatrani Formation, Fayum Depression, Egypt
PeerJ spoke to Shorouq Al-Ashqar about the recently published article New phiocricetomyine rodents (Hystricognathi) from the Jebel Qatrani Formation, Fayum Depression, Egypt.
Shorouq Al-Ashqar is a Lab Manager of Mansoura University Vertebrate Paleontology center (MUVP) and a Master student in Vertebrate Paleontology.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your co-authors?
My name is Shorouq Al- Ashqar. I’m a member of Sallam-Lab team and the lab manager of MUVP. We are a team of researchers with a shared passion for vertebrate fossils. Among my co-authors is Professor Erik R. Seiffert, a mentor, whose work on Paleogene mammals continues to resonate through his many collaborators, producing original research; Dr. Dorien de Vries, a researcher at Ecosystems and Environment Research Centre, University of Salford; Dr. Sanaa El-Sayed, the vice director of MUVP and a PhD student at the University of Michigan; Dr. Mohamed S. Antar, National Focal Point for Natural Heritage and Director General for Central Parks of Egypt; and Professor Hesham Sallam, the senior author. Professor Sallam founded MUVP and initiated the first Egyptian school for studying vertebrate paleontology. Over the past dozen years, Sallam-Lab has explored, discovered, and documented a lot of Egyptian fossils.
Can you briefly explain the research you published in PeerJ?
We have discovered a dwarf rodent that lived in the Fayum Depression of Egypt about 34 million years ago. At that time, Egypt had a tropical-like environment with forests, swamps and a diversified fauna of animals with different types, sizes and behaviors. The Eocene of Egypt is punctuated by the arrival of new lineages of rodents from Eurasia – the anomaluroids and hystricognaths. Hystricognathous rodents originated in Asia and came to Africa, then their descendants migrated to South America and give rise to South American Caviomorpha.
But here is the problem – even back then, Africa and south America were really far apart, so how did these rodents wind up to south America? The prevailing theory says these animals arrived in South America from Africa by a trans-Atlantic dispersal that involved riding on floating masses of plant debris. In other words they “rafted” there! Safroutus and his relatives witnessed the transaction between global warming and global cooling.
What did you find?
We studied multiple specimens of the new taxon that include two skulls and a large group of mandibles, but it wasn’t easy; the samples were very small, delicate and adhered to the solid claystone, which made preparing the samples for study very difficult. We had to make micro CT scans to be able to study them in a three-dimensional image.
The specimens showed clear differences in the morphological characteristics of the upper and lower teeth. And by comparing these samples with the discovered rodents from Afro-Arabia, it was clear that it belongs to a new genus that has never been discovered before.
We named the newly discovered rodent, Qatranimys safroutus. “Qatrani” refers to the location of the discovery, “mys” means mice in Latin, whilst “safroutus” means tiny in the Egyptian Arabic dialect. The length of the molar of Qatranimys Safroutus was one millimeter, and its skull was about 1.5 centimeters long.
What was significant about your findings?
We did not only record a new genus and species, but we were able to record the first bones of the skull of an enigmatic clade to which the discovery belongs, called the “Phiocricetomyines”. Furthermore, it will enhance our understanding of the phylogenetic framework and paleobiogeography of hystricognathous rodents.
Where and when was the fossil discovered?
The specimens were discovered through different field expeditions that were conducted by Duke University
What kinds of lessons do you hope your readers take away from the research?
The identification of Qatranimys safroutus provides new information for better understanding the evolutionary history of the enigmatic clade phiocricetomyines.
How did you first hear about PeerJ, and what persuaded you to submit to us?
I heard about PeerJ from my supervisors and I was persuaded by their positive experience with the publishing process.
Do you have any comments about your overall experience with us?
Smooth communication, a fast review process, and fair treatment.
Would you submit again, and would you recommend that your colleagues submit?