A new assemblage of Cenozoic lungfishes (Dipnoi: Lepidosirenidae) from the late Oligocene Nsungwe Formation, Rukwa Rift Basin, southwestern Tanzania

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Lungfish (Dipnoi) date back to the Devonian, and some fossil taxa as well as extant African lungfishes are known for their ability to aestivate, tolerating low-oxygen environments associated with seasonal drying. Extant lungfishes are separated into two families: Lepidosirenidae (Protopterus in Africa and Lepidosiren in South America) and Neoceratodontidae (Neocerotadus in Australia). African lungfishes were more geographically and phylogenetically diverse on the continent in the past than they are today, with only 5% of extinct taxa recorded from the sub-Saharan fossil record. Given the sparse record of Lepidosirenidae fossils from continental Africa, any new materials are important for understanding diversification of the clade. Here we describe new lungfish fossils cautiously referable to Protopterus annectens and Protopterus aethiopicus, which are strongly supported sister taxa based on the molecular phylogeny. Specimens were collected from the late Oligocene Nsungwe Formation in the Rukwa Rift Basin (RRB) of southwestern Tanzania. The late Oligocene Nsungwe Formation represents a sequence of continental rift-fill deposits of the Songwe sub-basin of the RRB and is subdivided into the lower Utengule and upper Songwe members. Recovery of such material from the Paleogene of Africa below the equator addresses a sizable gap in the lungfish fossil record. It also expands the Nsungwe Formation fauna that includes invertebrates, alestid fishes, ptychadenid anurans, snakes, and several clades of mammals, deepening paleoecological insights into the late Oligocene record of the continental African interior. At present, P. aethiopicus and P. dolloi have an extensive modern eastern African distribution associated with the rift lakes and a region where extant members of P. annectens are not presently known. Fossil specimens described herein document presence of the clade during Paleogene volcanic activity in the western branch of the Eastern African Rift System.

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This article was published in Geobios.

The published version is available at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geobios.2020.09.004.

Copyright © 2021 Published by Elsevier Masson SAS.

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