A few years ago, I published an article at Evolution News titled “Rafting Stormy Waters” (Bechly 2018), which discussed the various highly implausible events of oceanic dispersal with vegetation rafts to explain the biogeographic patterns of living animals. This includes the dispersal of monkeys from Africa to South America that implied a 60-day voyage of 1,400 km across the Eocene early Atlantic Ocean (Gabbatiss 2016).
Now, a new fossil find has made this problem much worse. Marivaux et al. (2023) describe in the journal PNAS a new primate genus from the Paleogene of Western Amazon and provide a new phylogenetic analysis of the earliest fossil Neotropical monkeys. This phylogenetic study shows that three genera of fossil monkeys, all known by fossil teeth from the Early Oligocene of South America, are not related to living New World monkeys (Platyrrhini), but are nested in three distinct African clades respectively: Ashaninkacebus is nested within the Eosimiidae clade (Marivaux et al. 2023), Perupithecus is nested within the Oligopithecidae clade (Bond et al. 2015), and Ucayalipithecus is nested within the Parapithecidae clade (Seiffert et al. 2020). This implies three independent Eocene colonization events of South America by rafting from Africa, additional to the dispersal of platyrrhine monkeys, and additional to the dispersal of caviomorph rodents.
Did viable populations of monkeys really raft successfully four times across the Atlantic Ocean from Africa to South America? Seriously? One such event is already a stretch, but four times is beyond ridiculous. If such events happened so often with unlikely passengers like monkeys, why don’t we find many more cases of similar Neotropic-Afrotropic relationships in much more likely candidates such as reptiles or insects, which could far more easily survive long transoceanic rafts? Not to mention the simple fact that in the whole history of human seafaring we have never observed rafting vertebrates in the middle of the ocean and only observed rafting dispersal events in cases of relatively close islands and even there only with reptiles. Longrich (2021) called this an “incredible ocean crossing” which “beat odds that make Powerball lotteries seem like a safe bet.” Something is clearly wrong here, and I mean way off. But evolutionary biology has a cheap cop out that was made explicit by Nobel laureate George Wald (1954):
Given so much time, the [nearly] “impossible” becomes possible, the “possible” becomes probable, and the “probable” becomes virtually “certain.”
It does not require that one be a Darwin doubter to recognize that this hardly qualifies as good science, as shown, for example, in this highly recommended article by Lu (2021) from an AI perspective. Time is not the hero of the plot when actual improbabilities and probabilistic resources are ignored or glossed over with fancy storytelling according to the unspoken dogma of evolutionary biology: It must have been possible because it happened. After all, God forbid if we were to consider explanations beyond blind naturalistic mechanisms.
- Bechly G 2018. Rafting Stormy Waters: When Biogeography Contradicts Common Ancestry. Evolution News June 27, 2018. https://evolutionnews.org/2018/06/rafting-stormy-waters-when-biogeography-contradicts-common-ancestry/
- Bond M, Tejedor MF, Campbell KE Jr, Chornogubsky L, Novo N & Goin F 2015. Eocene primates of South America and the African origins of New World monkeys. Nature 520(7548), 538–541. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/nature14120
- Gabbatiss J 2016. The monkeys that sailed across the Atlantic to South America. BBC January 26, 2016. https://web.archive.org/web/20160127084123/http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20160126-the-monkeys-that-sailed-across-the-atlantic-to-south-america
- Longrich NR 2021. One incredible ocean crossing may have made human evolution possible. The Conversation April 29, 2021. https://theconversation.com/one-incredible-ocean-crossing-may-have-made-human-evolution-possible-157479
- Lu CP 2021. Infinite Dilemma 1: Not Enough Time. Towards Data Science February 3, 2021. https://towardsdatascience.com/neo-darwinistic-concepts-of-chance-and-time-through-the-lens-of-ai-2eee4d5c2bd6
- Marivaux L, Negri FR, Antoine P-O et al. 2023. An eosimiid primate of South Asian affinities in the Paleogene of Western Amazonia and the origin of New World monkeys. PNAS 120(28):e2301338120. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2301338120 (PDF: https://hal.science/hal-04153825/document)
- Seiffert ER, Tejedor MF, Fleagle JG, Novo NM, Cornejo FM, Bond M, de Vries M & Campbell KE Jr 2020. A parapithecid stem anthropoid of African origin in the Paleogene of South America. Science 368(6487), 194–197. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aba1135
- Wald G 1954. The Origin of Life. Scientific American 191, 45–53. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-origin-of-life/