An exceptionally preserved Lower Cretaceous ecosystem


Fieldwork in the Early Cretaceous Jehol Group, northeastern China has revealed a plethora of extraordinarily well-preserved fossils that are shaping some of the most contentious debates in palaeontology and evolutionary biology. These discoveries include feathered theropod dinosaurs and early birds, which provide additional, indisputable support for the dinosaurian ancestry of birds, and much new evidence on the evolution of feathers and flight. Specimens of putative basal angiosperms and primitive mammals are clarifying details of the early radiations of these major clades. Detailed soft-tissue preservation of the organisms from the Jehol Biota is providing palaeobiological insights that would not normally be accessible from the fossil record.

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Figure 1: Palaeogeographical setting of the Jehol Biota.
Figure 2: Composite stratigraphic log of the Yixian and Jiufotang Formations in Liaoning Province, showing the positions of radiometrically dated horizons.
Figure 3: Cladogram illustrating the relationship of birds with major clades of non-avian coelurosaurian theropods (based on refs 34, 64, 67).
Figure 4: Vertebrate fossils from the Jehol Biota, illustrating key morphological changes during the transition from non-avian coelurosaurs to modern birds.
Figure 5: Selected invertebrates from the Jehol fauna.
Figure 6: Selected plants from the Jehol flora.


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We thank the IVPP Liaoxi Project field team (M.-M. Zhang, X.-L. Wang, X. Xu, F. Zhang, Y. Wang, F. Jin, J.-Y. Zhang, Y.-Q. Wang, Y.-M. Hu), and C. C. Swisher, Q. Leng, H. Zhang, J. Zhang, C.-S. Li, S. Duan, W.-Q. Zhu, E.-M. Friis, J. Wocicki, P. G. Davis, P. Upchurch, D. M. Unwin, M. A. Taylor, R. Paton and I. Glasspool for discussions. K. Padian and Z.-X. Luo provided useful comments. This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (to Z.Z.), the Chinese Academy of Sciences (to Z.Z.), the Special Funds for Major State Basic Research Projects of China (to Z.Z.), The Royal Society of London (to P.M.B.), Jurassic Foundation (to P.M.B.), and NERC (Research Fellowship to J.H.).

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Zhou, Z., Barrett, P. & Hilton, J. An exceptionally preserved Lower Cretaceous ecosystem. Nature 421, 807–814 (2003).

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