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An arboreal docodont from the Jurassic and mammaliaform ecological diversification

Science  13 Feb 2015:
Vol. 347, Issue 6223, pp. 764-768
DOI: 10.1126/science.1260879

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Mammals are one of the most morphologically diverse organisms, with adaptation to unique ecological conditions creating a wide array of forms, from mice to whales. Two new basal mammals from the mid-Jurassic period suggest that this diversification was well under way millions of years earlier than previously thought. Luo et al. describe a burrowing species with limb and digit modifications similar to those of current burrowers and identify the likely genes and developmental pathways involved. Meng et al. describe an arboreal species with modifications for climbing and that possessed teeth clearly adapted for a herbivorous diet, including the consumption of sap.

Science, this issue p. 760, p. 764

Abstract

A new docodontan mammaliaform from the Middle Jurassic of China has skeletal features for climbing and dental characters indicative of an omnivorous diet that included plant sap. This fossil expands the range of known locomotor adaptations in docodontans to include climbing, in addition to digging and swimming. It further shows that some docodontans had a diet with a substantial herbivorous component, distinctive from the faunivorous diets previously reported in other members of this clade. This reveals a greater ecological diversity in an early mammaliaform clade at a more fundamental taxonomic level not only between major clades as previously thought.

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