Article | Published:

New gliding mammaliaforms from the Jurassic

Nature volume 548, pages 291296 (17 August 2017) | Download Citation

Abstract

Stem mammaliaforms are Mesozoic forerunners to mammals, and they offer critical evidence for the anatomical evolution and ecological diversification during the earliest mammalian history. Two new eleutherodonts from the Late Jurassic period have skin membranes and skeletal features that are adapted for gliding. Characteristics of their digits provide evidence of roosting behaviour, as in dermopterans and bats, and their feet have a calcaneal calcar to support the uropagatium as in bats. The new volant taxa are phylogenetically nested with arboreal eleutherodonts. Together, they show an evolutionary experimentation similar to the iterative evolutions of gliders within arboreal groups of marsupial and placental mammals. However, gliding eleutherodonts possess rigid interclavicle–clavicle structures, convergent to the avian furculum, and they retain shoulder girdle plesiomorphies of mammaliaforms and monotremes. Forelimb mobility required by gliding occurs at the acromion–clavicle and glenohumeral joints, is different from and convergent to the shoulder mobility at the pivotal clavicle–sternal joint in marsupial and placental gliders.

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Acknowledgements

We thank A. Shinya for fossil preparation; S. Bi, S. Gatesy, L. Heaney, H.-J. Li, Z.-J. Gao, T. Martin, B. Patterson, P. Sereno, N. Shubin, X.-T. Zheng and C.-F. Zhou for access to comparative specimens; staff of BMNH and FMNH for assistance. Research supported by funding for Q.-J.M. (Beijing Scientific Commission), Z.-X.L. (UChicago-BSD) and D.M.G. (UChicago and FMNH Fellowships). Full acknowledgments are provided in the Supplementary Information.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Beijing Museum of Natural History, Beijing 100050, China

    • Qing-Jin Meng
    • , Di Liu
    •  & Yu-Guang Zhang
  2. Committee on Evolutionary Biology, The University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois 60637, USA

    • David M. Grossnickle
    •  & Zhe-Xi Luo
  3. Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy, The University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois 60637, USA

    • April I. Neander
    •  & Zhe-Xi Luo
  4. Hebei GEO University, Shijiazhuang 050031, Hebei Province, China

    • Qiang Ji

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Contributions

Q.-J.M. and Z.-X.L. conceived the project; Q.-J.M., Y.-G.Z., D.L. and Q.J. acquired fossils and studied stratigraphy; all authors were involved in fossil interpretation during lab preparation; D.M.G. performed morphometric analyses; A.I.N. scanned and segmented fossils, prepared graphics; Z.-X.L. composed figures; Z.-X.L., Q.-J.M. and D.M.G. led the writing, with feedback from all authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Zhe-Xi Luo.

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Extended data

Supplementary information

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    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Information parts A-J.

  2. 2.

    Reporting Summary

Videos

  1. 1.

    Video 1: Shoulder girdle and forelimb of a juvenile specimen and a comparison of the shoulder girdle of eleutherodonts and monotreme mammals.

    Part 1. Shoulder girdle and forelimb of a juvenile specimen (BMNH3258). Color codes: humerus - metallic yellow; scapula – red; procoracoid – green; coracoid – blue; clavicles – brown; sternal series of paired manubrium, sternebrae 1-3 – brown, and a gracile xiphoid – brown; the partially rendered costal ribs – brown; thoracic (dorsal) ribs – purple; vertebral column – metallic grey. Part 2. Comparison of the shoulder girdle of eleutherodonts and monotreme mammals. a. Partial reconstruction of the eleutherodont shoulder girdle and sternal series, mostly based on CT scans of BMNH3258; the un-ossified interclavicle is supplemented from Maiopatagium furculiferum type specimen (BMNH2940) and other specimens. b. Adult Ornithorhynchus anatinus (the platypus). c. Juvenile Ornithorhynchus anatinus. d. Adult Tachyglossus aculeatus (the short beaked echidna). The rotation of the shoulder girdles in anatomical orientation with the sternal series is nearly horizontal.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature23476

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