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Earliest Evolution of Multituberculate Mammals Revealed by a New Jurassic Fossil

Science  16 Aug 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6147, pp. 779-783
DOI: 10.1126/science.1237970

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Early Multi

Multituberculate mammals (multis) first arose in the Jurassic and became extinct in the Oligocene, a span of over 100 million years, which makes them the longest-living order of mammals known. This highly diverse and abundant group filled many niches occupied by today's similarly diverse rodents. Multis are known for their complex dentition and unique locomotor adaptations, which facilitated their divergence into a suite of ecosystems. Yuan et al. (p. 779) describe a new basal multi from a nearly complete skeleton that shows that the underpinnings of these adaptations arose early in the evolution of the order, setting the stage for the major diversification and radiation of the group that came during the Cretaceous and Paleogene.

Abstract

Multituberculates were successful herbivorous mammals and were more diverse and numerically abundant than any other mammal groups in Mesozoic ecosystems. The clade also developed diverse locomotor adaptations in the Cretaceous and Paleogene. We report a new fossil skeleton from the Late Jurassic of China that belongs to the basalmost multituberculate family. Dental features of this new Jurassic multituberculate show omnivorous adaptation, and its well-preserved skeleton sheds light on ancestral skeletal features of all multituberculates, especially the highly mobile joints of the ankle, crucial for later evolutionary success of multituberculates in the Cretaceous and Paleogene.

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