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      Integrated hearing and chewing modules decoupled in a Cretaceous stem therian mammal

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          Abstract

          Based on multiple 3D skeletal specimens we report a new Cretaceous stem therian mammal that displays decoupling of hearing and chewing apparatuses and functions. The auditory bones, including the surangular, have no bone contact with the ossified Meckel’s cartilage; the latter is loosely lodged on the medial rear of the dentary. This configuration probably represents the initial morphological stage of the definitive mammalian middle ear. Evidence shows that hearing and chewing apparatuses have evolved in a modular fashion. Starting as an integrated complex in non-mammaliaform cynodonts, the two modules, regulated by similar developmental and genetic mechanisms, eventually decoupled during the evolution of mammals, allowing further improvement for more efficient hearing and mastication.

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          Evolvability

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            An exceptionally preserved Lower Cretaceous ecosystem.

            Fieldwork in the Early Cretaceous Jehol Group, northeastern China has revealed a plethora of extraordinarily well-preserved fossils that are shaping some of the most contentious debates in palaeontology and evolutionary biology. These discoveries include feathered theropod dinosaurs and early birds, which provide additional, indisputable support for the dinosaurian ancestry of birds, and much new evidence on the evolution of feathers and flight. Specimens of putative basal angiosperms and primitive mammals are clarifying details of the early radiations of these major clades. Detailed soft-tissue preservation of the organisms from the Jehol Biota is providing palaeobiological insights that would not normally be accessible from the fossil record.
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              Chance and necessity: the evolution of morphological complexity and diversity.

               S B Carroll (2001)
              The primary foundation for contemplating the possible forms of life elsewhere in the Universe is the evolutionary trends that have marked life on Earth. For its first three billion years, life on Earth was a world of microscopic forms, rarely achieving a size greater than a millimetre or a complexity beyond two or three cell types. But in the past 600 million years, the evolution of much larger and more complex organisms has transformed the biosphere. Despite their disparate forms and physiologies, the evolution and diversification of plants, animals, fungi and other macroforms has followed similar global trends. One of the most important features underlying evolutionary increases in animal and plant size, complexity and diversity has been their modular construction from reiterated parts. Although simple filamentous and spherical forms may evolve wherever cellular life exists, the evolution of motile, modular mega-organisms might not be a universal pattern.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Science
                Science
                American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
                0036-8075
                1095-9203
                December 05 2019
                : eaay9220
                Article
                10.1126/science.aay9220
                © 2019

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