A 161 million-year-old Mongolian fossil not only reveals a new species of salamanders, but also provides proof that much of the evolution of salamanders occurred in Asia.
For more than three years, scientists from the University of Chicago and Peking University in Beijing have been collecting thousands of salamander fossils, many of which preserve the entire skeleton and impressions of soft tissues, from seven excavation sites in Mongolia and China. Prior to the discovery in 1996 of the Chinese sites, scientists had complete salamander fossils dating back only to the Tertiary period, which began 65 million years ago.
“It’s remarkable to have the earliest-known salamanders with so much diversity, so many specimens and such high-quality preservation,” said Neil Shubin, Ph.D., professor and chairman of organismal biology and anatomy at the University of Chicago and lead author in the study. “Usually when you find the earliest-known animal, you only have one representative. But we have thousands. It’s a real opportunity to look at how salamanders have evolved.”
Catherine Gianaro | EurekAlert!
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