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Postcranial Skeleton of the Cretaceous Mammal Akidolestes cifellii and Its Locomotor Adaptations

Abstract

Spalacotheroid “symmetrodontans” are a group of extinct Mesozoic mammals. They are basal taxa in the trechnotherian clade that includes modern marsupials and placentals. Therefore, fossils of spalacotheroids can provide information on the ancestral condition from which marsupials and placentals likely have evolved. Here, we describe the postcranial skeleton of Akidolestes cifellii, a spalacotheroid species from the Lower Cretaceous Yixian Formation of northeastern China. Our comparison of the skeletal features of Akidolestes and the closely related Zhangheotherium and Maotherium indicates some major morphological and functional differences in the postcranium among these spalacotheroid mammals. Akidolestes shows characters for terrestrial habitat preference. Overall it appears to be a generalized terrestrial mammal. Akidolestes differs from Zhangheotherium and Maotherium in some characteristics of the scapula, the pelvis, and the hind limb, some of which can be directly correlated with different locomotor capabilities, and possibly also habitat preferences. This suggests that a greater ecomorphological differentiation occurred in these stem therian mammals than previously thought and that ecological differentiation is a major pattern in early therian mammal evolution.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Prof. Xiangning Yang and Dr. Yukun Shi for facilitating research in Nanjing University. We especially want to thank Prof. Peiji Chen and Prof. Gang Li in Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, for helping us to access this fantastic fossil. Without great help of Profs. Chen and Li, this research would never been possible. We want to thank Drs. Vera Weisbecker and E. Christopher Kirk for discussion, and Gregory P. Wilson, Lauren Berg, Mary Dawson, John Wible, and two anonymous referees for their help to improve many aspects of this manuscript. We thank Mark A. Klingler for his skeletal and posture reconstruction of Akidolestes.

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Chen, M., Luo, ZX. Postcranial Skeleton of the Cretaceous Mammal Akidolestes cifellii and Its Locomotor Adaptations. J Mammal Evol 20, 159–189 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10914-012-9199-9

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Keywords

  • Akidolestes cifellii
  • Spalacotheroid
  • Postcranial skeleton
  • Terrestrial
  • Locomotor function
  • Habitat preference