BCAS Vol.24 No.2 2010

Jurassic- Herpetofaunas from the Jehol Associated Strata in NE China: Evolutionary and Ecological Implications

WANG Yuan1*, DONG Liping1,2 and Susan E. EVANS3

1 Key Laboratory of Evolutionary Systematics of , Institute of Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences

2 Graduate School of the Chinese Academy of Sciences

3 University College London

urassic-Cretaceous in western , northern Hebei and may be of Late age. herpetofaunas have recently and southeastern Inner Mongolia Findings from this horizon include Jbeen recovered from tuff- in the past decade, has fuelled a a diverse caudate assemblage and interbedded lacustrine strata in resurgence of interest and a stream of many insects. Both the Jehol Biota northeastern (NE) China. Most of spectacular finds. The found at and the Daohugou Bed are them are from the these localities are often characterized justly famous for their feathered Jehol Group (131–120 Ma), which has by articulated skeletons and even and mammals, whereas yielded a diverse and important fossil exquisite soft tissue preservation. their herpetofaunal components, assemblage including insects, plants, Associated with the Jehol including , , fishes and . Work on the Group, another important fossil , choristoderes and , Jehol Biota has been ongoing for more horizon, the Daohugou Fossil Bed, 26 in total, also play an than a century, but the discovery of was also identified in the same important role in phylogenetic and important new localities, particularly areas. It predates the Jehol Group, paleoenvironmental analyses.


Frogs and salamanders have and Chunerpeton (Daohugou Bed, analysis suggests Jeholotriton is a been collected from more than 15 Inner Mongolia) are paedomorphic primitive lying at the base of the localities of the Jehol Group and caudates ( whose adults crown-group Urodela. Chunerpeton Daohugou Fossil Bed. Jeholotriton resemble juveniles). Phylogenetic is the only Chinese

*To whom correspondence should be addressed at [email protected]

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taxon that can be classified at a familial level (Cryptobranchidae) and one of the earliest crown- group caudates found in the world. Liaoxitriton (Daohugou Bed, Inner Mongolia; Yixian Fm, Liaoning) is a fully metamorphosed salamander similar to modern hynobiids and with its two species, links the Daohugou Fauna (L. daohugouensis) to the Jehol Biota (L. zhongjiani). Laccotriton and Sinerpeton are hynobiid-like salamanders from the same quarry (Yixian Fm, Hebei), the former being the first Mesozoic caudate reported from China (in 1998). Pangerpeton (Daohugou Bed, Liaoning) is a metamorphosed salamander having a close affinity with Jeholotriton, and it is one of the shortest-bodied salamanders known. The newly named Regalerpeton (Dabeigou Fm, Hebei) is the sister taxon to Chunerpeton Fig.1 Jehol-associated fossil salamanders: (A) Laccotriton subsolanus (Holotype); but it is metamorphosed and bears (B) Chunerpeton tianyiensis, showing well-preserved impressions of external gills; (C) characteristics of Liaoxitriton. Pangerpeton sinensis (a high fidelity cast of the holotype, showing a “fat” body outline The Mesophryne is and warty skin impressions); and (D) Jeholotriton paradoxus, showing ontogenetic series, and an exquisite tail imprint in the adult. an exception among the four Jehol frogs in being represented by more than one specimen, and it is the sister date. It extends the temporal range of of lissamphibians. However, frogs taxon to the archaeobatrachian (archaic the group in Asia back by at least 120 and salamanders are represented frogs) . At some localities, it Ma, and provides valuable anatomical by disproportionate numbers of is found as well preserved, three- information on early anurans. An specimens, reflecting differences in dimensional skeletons, unusual unnamed tadpole from Daohugou depositional environments. Adult for Mesozoic anurans known from represents the earliest anuran from frogs are common only in the more around the world. Yizhoubatrachus China, and signals the possibility of terrestrial deposits and are rare in should be a subadult, affecting some finding adult specimens in the same the fully aquatic environments. By diagnostic characters. Together with fossil horizon. contrast, salamanders are found Mesophryne and Liaobatrachus The salamanders and frogs only in the aquatic facies, and (referred to the family Pelobatidae from the Jehol-associated faunas are paedomorphic taxa predominate. on questionable characters), these important in resolving the highly Several localities even preserve genera form successive sister groups problematic phylogeny of caudates salamanders at different growth to Archaeobatrachia. Callobatrachus, and anurans. Their fine preservation, stages, a situation unique amongst from the same locality and horizon as high taxonomic diversity and Mesozoic localities around the world. Liaobatrachus, represents the earliest crucial geological age (Jurassic to They thus provide a wonderful discoglossid frog from China, and the Cretaceous) can help to elucidate the opportunity for ongoing ontogenetic most primitive discoglossid known to early evolution and diversification studies.


Turtles are rare in the Jehol- Manchurochelys, with two species, but Turtles are known from only two associated faunas of NE China. Until one of these, M. liaoxiensis, was lately horizons of the Jehol Group and show recently, only one was recognized, reassigned to the genus Ordosemys. obvious aquatic adaptations. New

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material under study (by present authors) from the Yixian Fm of Inner Mongolia may reveal more cranial characters.

Fig. 2 Jehol-associated fossil frogs and turtles: (A) The three dimensional preservation of a frog skeleton from Lujiatun Locality, Liaoning; (B, C) Callobatrachus sanyanensis (a life reconstruction, and a holotype skeleton under UV light showing eye imprints); and (D) Ordosemys liaoxiensis (a compressed skeleton prepared from two sides).


Choristoderes are an extinct group of freshwater (170–15 Ma). They are much more common in the Jehol-associated faunas than turtles and some choristoderan taxa are represented by a full range of growth stages. Three ecomorphic types have been recognized: a long-snouted gavial (e.g., Ikechosaurus), a short-snouted crocodile type (e.g., ), and highly aquatic long-necked type (e.g., Hyphalosaurus). Choristoderes appear to have thrived and diversified in East Asia during the Early Cretaceous. They are thought to have dispersed into western North America when it became connected to East Asia about 110 million years ago, but then disappeared from the Asian record, possibly due to climate change.

Fig. 3 Jehol-associated fossil choristoderes and lizards: (A) Hyphalosaurus lingyuanensis (Holotype, 1.16 m long); (B) Colored outline drawing of 16 Dalinghosaurus lizards buried in aggregation on a block of rock; (C) Liushusaurus acanthocaudata showing exquisitely preserved scalation; (D) tenuis (a juvenile skeleton and an adult skull for size comparison).


Lizards are relatively rarer than of ecomorphs. Yabeinosaurus (Yixian body proportions. Newly found salamanders in the Jehol-associated Fm, Liaoning) is a large, robust, specimens have allowed a revision strata, but are quite diversified in terms terrestrial squamate with conservative of previous descriptions, which were

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all based on juvenile specimens. named on the basis of an indeterminate The recently named Liushusaurus Dalinghosaurus is a scleroglossan specimen with impressions. The (Yixian Fm, Inner Mongolia) shows that is smaller and more gracile latter is a gliding lizard with long ribs. exquisite preservation of the scales than Yabeinosaurus, and has longer Two unnamed lizard specimens were and other integumentary structures, as hind limbs. It may have been a runner recently described from Daohugou, well as sexually dimorphic traits. Like and/or climber. Liaoningolacerta and both immature. One has well-preserved Yabeinosaurus, it may be a survivor are both from the Yixian Fm skin impressions and the other from an older, Jurassic, squamate of Liaoning. The former is a juvenile represents a distinct long-limbed form. lineage.


The herpetofaunas recently recovered from the to Early Cretaceous strata of NE China represent a paleontological legacy of unrivalled importance for our understanding of vertebrate evolution, particularly with respect to the smaller species living in terrestrial–freshwater ecosystems (, mammals, frogs, salamanders, lizards, etc). Comparisons with contemporaneous deposits in neighboring countries (e.g. Japan, Korea) show biotic similarities Fig. 4 Phylogeny of (A) basal anurans at generic level; (B) caudates at familial level; and that reflect the geographic continuity (C) squamates from China. Green dots denote Mesozoic taxa from China. of these regions until 120 million years ago. Wider global comparisons of these extinct organisms. One events such as those represented in the suggest that Eastern Asia at this time interesting topic under study is the Lujiatun Bed, where three dimensional was isolated from the rest of the world influence of volcanic activity on the skeletons of frogs, lizards and even and had a unique fauna that later herpetofaunas and their preservation. dinosaurs (psittacosaurs) are buried spread to other regions. Phylogenetic The prevalence of paedomorphic in aggregation. It is remarkable that analysis of selected taxa shows the salamanders at Daohugou may imply after more than a decade of extensive presence of both survivors of older, unfavorable terrestrial conditions of excavation and collecting, new Jurassic, lineages and representatives high surviving pressure caused by herpetofaunal localities and new taxa of newer . It also provides new frequent volcanic eruptions at the are still being found. We can therefore information on disputed family-level time. Some polydactylous caudate anticipate that our understanding of relationships, e.g., within Amphibia specimens found in Liaoning may also the early evolutionary history of these and . result from water toxicity related to and reptiles will continue The exquisite preservation of volcanic activity. At some localities, to improve as a result of the Chinese many of the Jehol specimens also volcano-triggered mudslides may finds, with more interesting fossils allows real insights into the biology be responsible for mass mortality being recovered in the future.

Selected References

Chang MM, Chen PJ, Wang YQ, Wang Y (Eds.), 2003. The Jehol Biota. Shanghai Scientific and Technical Publishers: Shanghai. Evans S E, Wang Y, 2010. A new lizard (Reptilia: Squamata) with exquisite preservation of soft tissue from the Lower Cretaceous of Nei Mongol, China. Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, 8(1): 81–95. Evans S E, Wang Y, Jones M E H, 2007. An aggregation of lizard skeletons from the Lower Cretaceous of China. Senckenbergiana Lethaea, 87: 109–118. Gao K Q, Shubin N, 2003. Earliest known crown-group salamanders. , 422: 424–428. Wang Y, Gao K Q, 1999. Earliest Asian discoglossid frog from western Liaoning. Chinese Science Bulletin, 44(7): 636–642. Wang Y, Li J L, 2008. Squamata. In: Li J L, Wu X C, Zhang F C (eds.), The Chinese Fossil Reptiles and Their Kin. Beijing: Science Press. 115–137. Wang Y, Rose C, 2005. Jeholotriton paradoxus from the Lower Cretaceous of southeastern Nei Mongol, China. Journal of , 25: 523–532.

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