A Cretaceous symmetrodont therian with some monotreme-like postcranial features

Gang Li, Zhe-Xi Luo
Nature 2006 January 12, 439 (7073): 195-200
A new spalacotheriid mammal preserved with a complete postcranium and a partial skull has been discovered from the Yixian Formation of Liaoning, China. Spalacotheroid symmetrodonts are relatives to modern therians (combined group of marsupials and placentals) and are characterized by many skeletal apomorphies of therians. But unlike the closely related spalacotheroids and living therians, this new mammal revealed some surprisingly convergent features to monotremes in the lumbar vertebrae, pelvis and hindlimb. These peculiar features may have developed as functional convergence to locomotory features of monotremes, or the presence of lumbar ribs in this newly discovered mammal and their absence in its close relatives might be due to evolutionary developmental homoplasy. Analysis including this new taxon suggests that spalacotheroids evolved earlier in Eurasia and then dispersed to North America, in concordance with prevailing geodispersal patterns of several common mammalian groups during the Early Cretaceous period.

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