Advancements in ancient DNA analyses now permit comparative molecular and morphological studies of extinct animal dung commonly preserved in caves of semiarid regions. These new techniques are showcased using a unique dung deposit preserved in a late glacial vizcacha (Lagidium sp.) midden from a limestone cave in southwestern Argentina (38.5?? S). Phylogenetic analyses of the mitochondrial DNA show that the dung originated from a small ground sloth species not yet represented by skeletal material in the region, and not closely related to any of the four previously sequenced extinct and extant sloth species. Analyses of pollen and plant cuticles, as well as analyses of the chloroplast DNA, show that the Cuchillo Cura?? ground sloth browsed on many of the same herb, grass, and shrub genera common at the site today, and that its habitat was treeless Patagonian scrub-steppe. We envision a day when molecular analyses are used routinely to supplement morphological identifications and possibly to provide a time-lapse view of molecular diversification. ?? 2003 Elsevier Science (USA). All rights reserved.
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Phylogeny, diet, and habitat of an extinct ground sloth from Cuchillo Cura??, Neuque??n Province, southwest Argentina