Article

Nature 446, 288-293 (15 March 2007) | doi:10.1038/nature05627; Received 4 August 2006; Accepted 29 January 2007

A new eutriconodont mammal and evolutionary development in early mammals

Zhe-Xi Luo1,2, Peiji Chen3, Gang Li3 & Meng Chen2

  1. Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, Pennysylvania 15213, USA
  2. Department of Earth Sciences, Nanjing University, Nanjing 210093, China
  3. State Key Laboratory of Palaeobiology and Stratigraphy, Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Nanjing 210008, China

Correspondence to: Zhe-Xi Luo1,2 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to Z.-X.L. (Email: luoz@carnegiemnh.org).

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Detachment of the three tiny middle ear bones from the reptilian mandible is an important innovation of modern mammals. Here we describe a Mesozoic eutriconodont nested within crown mammals that clearly illustrates this transition: the middle ear bones are connected to the mandible via an ossified Meckel's cartilage. The connected ear and jaw structure is similar to the embryonic pattern in modern monotremes (egg-laying mammals) and placental mammals, but is a paedomorphic feature retained in the adult, unlike in monotreme and placental adults. This suggests that reversal to (or retention of) this premammalian ancestral condition is correlated with different developmental timing (heterochrony) in eutriconodonts. This new eutriconodont adds to the evidence of homoplasy of vertebral characters in the thoraco-lumbar transition and unfused lumbar ribs among early mammals. This is similar to the effect of homeobox gene patterning of vertebrae in modern mammals, making it plausible to extrapolate the effects of Hox gene patterning to account for homoplastic evolution of vertebral characters in early mammals.

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