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The wolverine (Gulo gulo) is the largest living terrestrial member of the Mustelidae; a versatile predator formerly distributed throughout boreal regions of North America and Eurasia. Though commonly recovered from Pleistocene sites across their range, pre- Pleistocene records of the genus are exceedingly rare. Here, we describe a new species of Gulo from the Gray Fossil Site in Tennessee. Based on biostratigraphy, a revised estimate of the age of the Gray Fossil Site is Early Pliocene, near the Hemphillian-Blancan transition, between 4.9 and 4.5 Ma. This represents the earliest known occurrence of a wolverine, more than one million years earlier than any other record. The new species of wolverine described here shares similarities with previously described species of Gulo, and with early fishers (Pekania). As the earliest records of both Gulo and Pekania are known from North America, this suggests the genus may have evolved in North America and dispersed to Eurasia later in the Pliocene. Both fauna and flora at the Gray Fossil Site are characteristic of warm/humid climates, which suggests wolverines may have become `cold-adapted' relatively recently. Finally, detailed comparison indicates Plesiogulo, which has often been suggested to be ancestral to Gulo, is not likely closely related to gulonines, and instead may represent convergence on a similar niche.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.