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Primitive fossil rodent from Inner Mongolia and its implications for mammalian phylogeny

Abstract

THE evolutionary origin of rodents is obscured by the group's sudden and highly transformed first appearance in the fossil record1,2 in the latest Paleocene. We report here the discovery of nearly complete dental remains of an extraordinary new primitive rodent from strata of transitional Paleocene-Eocene age in Inner Mongolia, China. The strikingly conservative morphological features of this taxon, Tribosphenomys minutus, gen. et sp. nov., substantially modify previous ideas about the ancestral rodent morphotype, which in turn has important implications for understanding the origin of rodents and their relationship to other eutherian mammals. This new fossil, in conjunction with recent morphological3 and molecular4,5 evidence confirming rodent monophyly, indicates the need for a reassessment of phylogenetic affinities among gliriform eutherians. Our results indicate a sister-group position of the new taxon to other rodents, and support the alliance of lagomorphs (rabbits) and rodents (cohort Glires). They also suggest the paraphyly of an extinct assemblage, the 'Eurymylidae', and reveal an unexpectedly complex pattern of character evolution near the ancestry of Rodentia.

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Meng, J., Wyss, A., Dawson, M. et al. Primitive fossil rodent from Inner Mongolia and its implications for mammalian phylogeny. Nature 370, 134–136 (1994). https://doi.org/10.1038/370134a0

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