China Makes Major Progress in Paleontological Research in 2018

Monday, March 11, 2019

Liu Cun Yu, the director of the Beipiao Pterosaur Museum, poses in front of a full-scale model of a Moganopterus zhuiana, a species named after his wife. (Stefen Chow)

The Paleontological Society of China published ten major achievements made in the field in 2018. Here they are:

-- The 1st turtle with a beak from China

A fossilized skeleton of a turtle, dating back about 228 million years to the dawn of the dinosaur era, filled a missing link in turtles' evolutionary history.

Found in the late Triassic deposits in Guanling County in Guizhou Province, the turtle was named Eorhynchochelys sinensis, meaning "the first turtle with a beak from China." The turtle, more than two meters long, had a short trunk and no shell on its back and abdomen.

The turtle is between the evolutionary positions Odontochelys and Pappochelys, which was discovered in Germany, dating back about 240 million years.

-- New mammal ancestor

Scientists from Center for Vertebrate Evolutionary Biology of Yunnan University and Linyi University identified a new mammal ancestor and their research indicates that marsupials may not have originated in Asia.

Well-preserved skeletons of Ambolestes zhoui from 126 million years ago were found in Yixian County in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

Ambolestes zhoui is an early member of the placental lineage. It also carries mixed features both placentals and marsupials, which led researchers to believe that Asia may not be the place of origin for marsupials. The oldest known marsupials are from 110 million years ago from western North America.

-- Qinghai-Tibet Plateau first occupied by humans at least 30,000 years ago

Thousands of stone artifacts recovered from a paleolithic site in southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region indicate that humans might have conquered one of the highest and most ecologically-challenging places on the globe at least 30,000 years ago.

The Nwya Devu site, located 4,600 meters above sea level in central Tibet, is the earliest archaeological site ever identified on the plateau.

-- Paleobiology Course Book

Evolution of Life and Environment, a book on paleobiology, is a course book for undergraduate and graduate students from all disciplines to grasp the general idea of evolution and environmental change, to consider the Earth as a system and to make contributions to reveal the evolutionary mechanisms of the current global environment and human future.

-- Understanding evolution of modern birds through fossilized tissues

Paleontology has traditionally focused on skeletal remains. Though rarely preserved, soft tissues have the potential to teach us far more about the biology of extinct organisms. Fossils from the Early Cretaceous Jehol Biota are rich with such traces, examples of which were described in the lung tissue and medullary bone of two birds.

The results of both studies indicate that soft tissue specializations evolved before many skeletal changes during the evolution of the highly modified modern bird. This fundamentally changes how paleontologists should interpret skeletal data when trying to reconstruct the biology o extinct animals.

-- Earliest asymmetrical flight feathers in the world

A bird-like dinosaur named Caihong juji from the Jurassic strata about 160 million years ago found in Qinglong of Hebei possesses not only symmetrical flight feathers on its forelimbs but also asymmetrical flight feathers on its tail, representing an important junction point in the evolution of flight feathers from symmetry to asymmetry.

-- Response of marine ecosystems during the end-Permian mass extinction

Professor Song Haijun's team, from China University of Geosciences (Wuhan), published their new findings concerning the evolution of marine ecosystems near the Permian-Triassic mass extinction in Sciences Advances and GSA Bulletin in 2018. Their results show that the end-Permian mass extinction resulted in an abnormal marine ecosystem. Additionally, biodiversity shows a rapid rebound after the mass extinction and reach the pre-extinction level around five million years later. But the recovery of the ecosystem is much more delayed, taking 50 million years, until the end of Triassic.

-- Earliest animal footprints found in China

Researchers from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Virginia Tech in the United States studied trackways and burrows in the Ediacaran Shibantan Member of the Dengying Formation (551 to 541 million years ago) in the Yangtze Gorges area of southern China.

They found trace fossils that represent some of the earliest known evidence for animal appendages, or legs.

-- The Snowball Earth triggered animal evolution

Professor Shen Bing from Peking University and his colleagues published research in Nature Communications on August 1, 2018, reporting the widespread pyrite concretions near the top of Nantuo Formation in South China. This study indicates that the termination of Marinoan global glaciation might have triggered the Ediacaran diversification of eukaryotes and the subsequent evolution of animals.

-- One more golden spike in China

A proposal that the Cambrian third series - 'Miaolingian series' and the fifth stage - 'Wuliuan stage' in Guizhou of China was passed by the International Union of Geological Sciences in 2018. Therefore, this is the 11th golden spike, or Global Standard Stratotype-Section and Point in China (GSSP).