During the Late Miocene a highly endemic vertebrate fauna evolved on Gargano Island (south-east coast of Italy), comprising others the giant soricid Deinogalerix, the giant barn owl Tyto gigantea, the giant hamster Hattomys, and the 'prongdeer' Hoplitomeryx with five horns and sabrelike ('moschid' type) upper canines. The Hoplitomeryx skeletal material forms a heterogenous group, containing four size groups; within the size groups different morphotypes may be present. All size groups share the same typical Hoplitomeryx features. These are: one central nasal horn and a pair of pronged orbital horns, protruding canines, complete fusion of the navicocuboid with the metatarsal, distally closed metatarsal gully, a non-parallel-sided astragalus, and an elongated patella. The different size groups are equally distributed over the excavated fissures, and are therefore not to be considered chronotypes. The hypothesis of an archipelago consisting of different islands each with its own morphotype cannot be confirmed.
The situation with several co-existing morphotypes on an island is paralleled by Candiacervus (Late Pleistocene, Crete, Greece). Opinions about its taxonomy differ, and at present two models prevail: one genus for eight morphotypes, or alternatively, two genera for five species. The second model is based upon limb proportions only, but these are invalid taxonomic features for island endemics, as they change under influence of environmental factors that differ from the mainland. Also in Hoplitomeryx the morphotypes differ in limb proportions, but here different ancestors are unlikely, because in that case they all ancestors must have shared the typical hoplitomerycid features. The morphosphere of Hoplitomeryx is too coherent to assume two or more different ancestors, and indicates a monophyletic origin of all morphotypes.
The large variation is instead explained as an example of adaptive radiation, starting when the Miocene ancestor colonized the island. The range of empty niches promoted its radiation into several trophic types, yielding a differentiation in Hoplitomeryx. The shared lack of large mammalian predators and the limited amount of food in all niches promoted the development of derived features in all size groups (apomorphies).
For full text, see VAN DER GEER, A.A.E. (2005). The postcranial of the deer Hoplitomeryx (Mio-Pliocene; Italy): another example of adaptive radiation on Eastern Mediterranean Islands.van der Geer. Monografies de la Societat d'Història Natural de les Balears 12: 325-336. Palma de Mallorca. For a free pdf [1,018 kb]: http://users.uoa.gr/~geeraae/publications/2005-IMEDEA-Hoplitomeryx.pdf. See my website http://users.uoa.gr/~geeraae for three more publications on this bizarre and enigmatic insular 'deer' of the Late Miocene.
For more general information of this enigmatic Late Miocene 'deer', see my Wikipedia page at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoplitomeryx