Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Department of


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A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Science, Major: Geosciences, Under the Supervision of Professors Ross Secord and Robert M. Hunt, Jr. Lincoln, NE: April, 2010
Copyright 2010 David M. Masciale


Anchitherine horses are a subfamily of equids that are abundantly represented in the late Eocene and early Oligocene of North America. This group has been heavily studied in the past, but important questions still remain. Some studies have focused on the Eocene-Oligocene boundary and have used these equids along with other taxa to study mammalian diet and climate change through this interval. I reexamine two anchitherine genera, Mesohippus and Miohippus, from stratigraphic sequences of the White River Group in western Nebraska and southwestern South Dakota. These sequences span the Chadronian (late Eocene), Orellan (early Oligocene), and Whitneyan (early Oligocene) North American land-mammal ages. The most recent revision of these genera was done by Prothero and Shubin (1989). I review the characters used for taxonomic identification. This includes characters such as the hypostyle, the articular facet on the third metatarsal, and dental dimensions. To avoid possible biases caused by combining specimens from different stratigraphic levels, specimens were separated by location and stratigraphic level. The length and width of cheek teeth, and tooth rows were measured on 488 specimens. First molar area serves as a proxy for body mass in horses and other mammals, and can be useful for distinguishing among species. Results indicate that the characters used by Prothero and Shubin were highly variable in anchitherine horses and are not useful for distinguishing between these genera. The development of the articular facet on the third metatarsal may be a function of body size and therefore may be of no more utility than first molar area. Variability in first molar area suggests the presence of three species in the medial and late Chadronian, two species in the Orellan, and at least two species in the Whitneyan. Due to a lack of objective criteria separating Mesohippus from Miohippus, I recommend synonymy of these genera, making Mesohippus a junior subjective synonym.