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Major fossil find reveals Asian origins of salamanders

A 150 million-year-old Chinese fossil site provides an extraordinary new window on the origin of one of the major groups of living amphibians. More than 500 fossils, many of which preserve the entire skeleton and impressions of soft tissues provide compelling evidence that the salamander originated in Asia according to a report in the March 29, 2001 issue of Nature.

"All the major primitive salamander families are now known to be present in Asia," said Neil Shubin, professor and chairman of organismal biology and anatomy of the University of Chicago. "The simple, take-home, message is that there is an Asian origin for all salamanders."

"The diversity of species in this find, combined with molecular data and study of characteristics from living salamanders, leads to the inescapable conclusion that almost all the major groups of salamanders evolved very early," said Shubin, "And not much has been happening since."

"These fantastic Northern Chinese sites are providing us with a wealth of new fossils," said Keqin Gao, of the American Museum of Natural History in New York. "The same set of beds provided evidence of feathered dinosaurs."

Salamanders, one of the three major groups of modern amphibians, are important to understanding fundamental questions in evolution. Their wide geographic distribution, highly variable species and ecological diversification have served as a model system for assessing developmental, anatomical and biogeographic evolution.

"There has been a huge gap in the fossil record. The origin of salamanders was poorly documented, the fossil evidence was just inadequate," said Gao. "We only had fossils of the extant salamander families going back to the Tertiary, 65 million years ago."

A volcanic eruption in northern China during the Late Jurassic, 150 million years ago, provided key material for the origin of the salamander--85 million year earlier than the previous fossil record. The eruption wiped out whol
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Contact: Jeanne Galatzer-Levy
jgalatz@uchospitals.edu
773-702-6241
University of Chicago Medical Center
28-Mar-2001


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