Evolutionary Biology

, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 117–132 | Cite as

The Evolution and Paleobiogeography of Flying Squirrels (Sciuridae, Pteromyini) in Response to Global Environmental Change

  • Xuefei Lu
  • Deyan Ge
  • Lin Xia
  • Zhaoqun Zhang
  • Song Li
  • Qisen YangEmail author
Research Article


Flying squirrels are strictly arboreal squirrels adopting a special gliding form of locomotion. This group of animals has a long history that has mirrored the vicissitude of forests. The discrepancy in the distribution between fossils and extant species indicates a mysterious evolution history requiring further exploration. This study compiles the worldwide fossils of Pteromyini to the species level in order to reproduce the spatiotemporal distribution pattern of flying squirrels and deduce the ancestral distribution according to dispersal-vicariance analysis of a phylogeny of the extant species. In addition, we reconstruct the paleoenvironmental background and find that flying squirrels probably originated in the Oligocene–Miocene transition from Europe and immediately dispersed to Asia and North America. Influenced by glaciation, CO2 reduction, geologic movements and the Paratethys retreat, the Northern Hemisphere underwent climate deterioration and grassland expansion during the late Miocene, and thus the diversity of Pteromyini dramatically decreased. The uplift of the Tibet Plateau in addition to the strengthened Asian monsoons intensified the aridity in central Asia, but brought sufficient water to the densely forested regions of South and Southeast Asia. These forests are likely both refugia and diversification center for flying squirrels during glacial periods in the Quarternary. The subsequent connection and separation events among these heterogeneous habitats has probably been a driving force in the speciation of flying squirrels. Based on this work, we predict a bleak future for the flying squirrels, one which is closely associated with the fate of forests in Asia.


Sciuridae Pteromyini Evolution Paleobiogeography Dispersal-vicariance analysis 



We deeply appreciate the contributors to the Paleobiology database and Genbank for making information publicly available. We appreciate Dr. Douglas Chesters for his help in language. We thank editors and anonymous reviewers for their constructive suggestions in improvement of this manuscript. Our research is supported by grants from the Natural Science Foundation of China (No: 31101629, 31172065, J0930004 and 30970332) and a grant (Y229YX5105) from the Key Laboratory of Zoological Systematics and Evolution of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Xuefei Lu
    • 1
    • 2
  • Deyan Ge
    • 1
  • Lin Xia
    • 1
  • Zhaoqun Zhang
    • 3
  • Song Li
    • 4
  • Qisen Yang
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Institute of ZoologyChinese Academy of Sciences (CAS)BeijingChina
  2. 2.Graduate University of CASBeijingChina
  3. 3.Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, CASBeijingChina
  4. 4.Kunming Institute of Zoology, CASKunmingChina

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