A New Mammaliaform from the Early Jurassic and Evolution of Mammalian Characteristics

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Science  25 May 2001:
Vol. 292, Issue 5521, pp. 1535-1540
DOI: 10.1126/science.1058476

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A fossil from the Early Jurassic (Sinemurian, ∼195 million years ago) represents a new lineage of mammaliaforms, the extinct groups more closely related to the living mammals than to nonmammaliaform cynodonts. It has an enlarged cranial cavity, but no postdentary trough on the mandible, indicating separation of the middle ear bones from the mandible. This extends the earliest record of these crucial mammalian features by some 45 million years and suggests that separation of the middle ear bones from the mandible and the expanded brain vault could be correlated. It shows that several key mammalian evolutionary innovations in the ear region, the temporomandibular joint, and the brain vault evolved incrementally through mammaliaform evolution and long before the differentiation of the living mammal groups. With an estimated body weight of only 2 grams, its coexistence with other larger mammaliaforms with similar “triconodont-like” teeth for insectivory within the same fauna suggests a great trophic diversity within the mammaliaform insectivore feeding guild, as inferred from the range of body sizes.

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