New gliding mammaliaforms from the Jurassic

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Abstract

Stem mammaliaforms are Mesozoic forerunners to mammals, and they offer critical evidence for the anatomical evolution and ecological diversification during the earliest mammalian history. Two new eleutherodonts from the Late Jurassic period have skin membranes and skeletal features that are adapted for gliding. Characteristics of their digits provide evidence of roosting behaviour, as in dermopterans and bats, and their feet have a calcaneal calcar to support the uropagatium as in bats. The new volant taxa are phylogenetically nested with arboreal eleutherodonts. Together, they show an evolutionary experimentation similar to the iterative evolutions of gliders within arboreal groups of marsupial and placental mammals. However, gliding eleutherodonts possess rigid interclavicle-clavicle structures, convergent to the avian furculum, and they retain shoulder girdle plesiomorphies of mammaliaforms and monotremes. Forelimb mobility required by gliding occurs at the acromion-clavicle and glenohumeral joints, is different from and convergent to the shoulder mobility at the pivotal clavicle-sternal joint in marsupial and placental gliders.

Maiopatagium, a haramiyid from the Jurassic Tiaojishan Formation (around 160 million years ago) of China was specialised for gliding with a patagium (wing membrane) and a fused wishbone, reminiscent of that of birds.

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