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The Oldest Cranium of Sinomastodon (Proboscidea, Gomphotheriidae), Discovered in the Uppermost Miocene of Southwestern China: Implications for the Origin and Migration of This Taxon

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Abstract

The origin of the Old World brevirostrine gomphotheriid taxon Sinomastodon has been debated intensively. The discovery of the oldest known Sinomastodon cranium, reported herein, supports its endemic origin and contradicts the prevalent theory of its North America origin. The new cranium was discovered from the Shuitangba locality, southwestern China, and is dated at about 6.5–6.0 Ma, corresponding to the latest Miocene. The new specimen shows distinct characters from the other species of Sinomastodon and was therefore named Sinomastodon praeintermedius, sp. nov. Newly discovered, isolated Sinomastodon-like teeth from the upper Miocene to the lower Pleistocene of southwestern China and Southeast Asia indicate a long evolution of Sinomastodon endemically. Remains of this species are frequently accompanied by those of stegodontid species. These two groups may have had a similar migration route, invading northern China and Japan during the latest Miocene, and retreating or becoming extinct from the Palearctic realm by the end of the Pliocene. The migrations of proboscideans may have been sparked by major paleoenviromental changes, i.e., the strengthened summer monsoon beginning in the late Miocene (~7–8 Ma) and global cooling due to the expansion of ice sheets from the middle Pliocene to the early Pleistocene. The new finding reveals a close relationship of the early Pliocene fauna of northern China and the latest Miocene fauna of southwestern China, and thus provides novel insight into the origin and components of Pliocene fauna in northern China.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Y. Wang, H. Saegusa, D. Mothé, and L. Avilla for important discussions on the origin and migration of Sinomastodon. We thank P. Tassy and U.B. Göhlich for their help in comparing European specimens and providing the relevant literature. We thank G.-F. Chen and T. Deng for their assistance. We thank L. Avilla and an anonymous reviewer for many suggestions to improve the article. This work was supported by the Yunnan Natural Science Foundation (2010CC010) and the Zhaotong Government, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (grant number XDB03020104), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant numbers 41372001, 41430102, 41202017), the National Science Foundation (grant numbers BCS 1035897, BCS 0321893), Bryn Mawr College, and the American Association of Physical Anthropology, Harvard University Center for the Environment of U.S.A.

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Supplemental Figure 1

Geographic map showing the location of the Suitangba fossil locality, and other important Miocene–Pliocene proboscidean bearing localities in the adjacent area (marked by pentagrams). The globe was taken from www.wikipedia.com. (GIF 92 kb)

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Supplemental Figure 2

Bivariate plots of the cheek-teeth measurements of various species of Sinomastodon. Data source: Sinomastodon praeintermedius, sp. nov., the present article; Sinomastodon intermedius, Teilhard and Trassaert 1937 and Chang 1964; Sinomastodon sendaicus, Kamei 2000; Sinomastodon huananensis, Zhang 1980 and Zong et al. 1989, 1996; Sinomastodon jiangnanensis, Wang et al. 2012; Sinomastodon yangziensis, Chow 1959 and Pei 1965, 1987; Sinomastodon bumiajuensis; van den Bergh 1999 (GIF 40 kb)

High Resolution (TIFF 4290 kb)

Supplemental Figure 3

a, left m3 of Sinomastodon huananensis (type specimen of Rhychotherium huananensis), in occlusial view; b, right m3 of the Yanghecun specimen, in occlusial view; c, Index of width (= width / length) of m3 in various species of Sinomastodon and Mammutidae. In each box, the upper border, middle line, and the lower border represent maximal, average, and minimal data in each sample. Data source: Sinomastodon praeintermedius, sp. nov., the present article; Sinomastodon intermedius, Chang 1964; Sinomastodon sendaicus, Kamei 2000; Sinomastodon huananensis, Zhang 1980 and Zong et al. 1989, 1996; Sinomastodon jiangnanensis, Wang et al. 2012; Sinomastodon yangziensis, Pei 1965, 1987; Sinomastodon bumiajuensis, van den Bergh 1999; the Yanghecun specimen, Wang et al. 2014a, b; Zygolophodon turicensis, Mammut borsoni, and Mammut americanum, Tobien 1975. (GIF 79 kb)

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Wang, SQ., Ji, XP., Jablonski, N.G. et al. The Oldest Cranium of Sinomastodon (Proboscidea, Gomphotheriidae), Discovered in the Uppermost Miocene of Southwestern China: Implications for the Origin and Migration of This Taxon. J Mammal Evol 23, 155–173 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10914-015-9311-z

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