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Heckeberg, Nicola S. (2017): Origination of antlerogenesis. In: Journal of Morphology, Vol. 278, No. 2: pp. 182-202
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Antlers are unique appendages. They are shed and rebuilt at intervals, and are synapomorphic for all living Cervidae (except for the Chinese water deer, Hydropotes inermis, in which they have presumably been lost). The antlerogenic process is controlled by a complex interaction of fluctuating levels of several hormones, most importantly testosterone. The oldest antler remains are recorded from the early Miocene;these have been interpreted as non-deciduous appendages because of supposed permanent skin coverage and the lack of a burr (a well-developed osseous protuberance around the base of the antler, which is always present in extant cervids). The aim of this study is to test the hypothesis that antler shedding was possible in these early Miocene cervids. Antlers of all extant and eight Miocene cervid genera, including burr-less antler fragments of the earliest cervids Procervulus, Ligeromeryx, and Lagomeryx were studied. An extensive comparative morphological analysis of external features of the antler, and of the abscission area and the base of the antler in particular, was undertaken. The results indicate that a regular, porous, and rugose abscission surface at the proximal end of the antler indicates antler shedding in both living and fossil cervids. The antler shedding mechanism must therefore have already been present in all early/mid Miocene cervid genera included in this study. On this basis, it is suggested that the presence of a burr is not prerequisite in order to shed antlers, that the presence of perpetual antlers has not yet been verified, and that the process of shedding and regeneration developed with the first appearance of these organs. This insight is particularly important for the systematic classification of early Miocene species as Cervidae, because the absence of the antler shedding and rebuilding mechanism would exclude them from the taxon Cervidae and from any relationship with extant cervids. J. Morphol. 278:182-202, 2017. (c) 2016 Wiley Periodicals,Inc.