A critical revision of the fossil record, stratigraphy and diversity of the Neogene seal genus Monotherium (Carnivora, Phocidae)
Historically, Monotherium had been one of the few genera of extinct Phocidae (true seals) that served as a wastebin taxon. Consequently, it did neither aid in understanding phylogenetic relationships of extinct Phocidae, nor in understanding seal diversity in deep time. This urged the reassessment of the genus. Before our review, Monotherium included five different species: Monotherium aberratum, Monotherium affine, and Monotherium delognii from Belgium; Monotherium gaudini from Italy; and Monotherium? wymani from the east coast USA. In this work we redescribe the fossil record of the genus, retaining the type species M. delognii. Monotherium aberratum and M. affine are reassigned to the new phocine genus Frisiphoca. Monotherium gaudini is renamed and considered a stem-monachine (Noriphoca gaudini). The holotype of the monachine M.? wymani requires further study pending the discovery of new fossil material that could be attributed to the same taxon. Reinvestigating the stratigraphic context reveals that N. gaudini most likely represents one of the two oldest named phocid seals, or even the oldest, dated to the late Oligocene-earliest Miocene. Our results allow questioning the widespread idea that Phocidae originated in the western Atlantic and better appreciate their palaeobiogeography during the late Oligocene-Miocene interval in the North Atlantic realm.