Earliest-known treeshrew fossil found in Yunnan, China
Treeshrews are widely considered a "living model" of an ancestral primate, and have long been called"living fossils". Actual fossils of treeshrews, however, are extremely rare. In a paper published in Scientific Reports, Drs. LI Qiang and NI Xijun, Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology (IVPP), Chinese Academy of Sciences, reported a new fossil species of Ptilocercus treeshrew from the early Oligocene (over 34 million years ago) of China that represents the oldest definitive fossil record of the crown group of treeshrews and nearly doubles the temporal length of their fossil record.
|Upper and lower dentition (in color) of Ptilocercus kylin, compared with |
P. lowii (in gray-scale) [Credit: NI Xijun]
The fossil species is strikingly similar to the extant pen-tailed treeshrew (Ptilocercus lowii), a species generally recognized as the most primitive extant treeshrew. It demonstrates that Ptilocercus treeshrews have undergone little evolutionary change in their morphology since the early Oligocene.
|Reconstruction of Ptilocercus kylin [Credit: NI Xijun]|
"This discovery provides an exceptional example of slow morphological evolution in a mammalian group over a period of 34 million years, and it supports the suggestion that the extant P. lowii gives us a living glimpse of the first ancestor of the Archonta, our own superordinal group", said lead author NI Xijun of the IVPP, "The persistent and stable tropical environment in Southeast Asia through the Cenozoic likely played a critical role in the survival of such a morphologically conservative lineage".
Source: Chinese Academy of Sciences [January 26, 2016]