Monday, 16 May 2016

New species from the Pliocene of Tibet reveals origin of ice age mountain sheep



Date: May 11, 2016
Source: Chinese Academy of Sciences Headquarters

Paleontologists reports a new genus and species of fossil sheep from the Pliocene of Zanda Basin in Tibet. This finding extends the fossil record for the sheep into the Pliocene of the Tibetan Plateau, suggesting that the Tibetan Plateau, possibly including Tianshan-Altai, represents the ancestral home range(s) of mountain sheep and that these basal stocks were the ultimate source of all extant species, which is consistent with the out-of-Tibet hypothesis regarding the origins of ice age megaherbivores.

Modern wild sheep, Ovis, is widespread in the mountain ranges of the Caucasus through Himalaya, Tibetan Plateau, Tianshan-Altai, eastern Siberia, and the Rocky Mountains in North America. In Eurasia, fossil sheep are known by a few isolated records at a few Pleistocene sites in North China, eastern Siberia, and western Europe, but are so far absent from the Tibetan Plateau.

In a paper published May 4 in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, paleontologists from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and La Brea Tar Pits and Museum at Los Angeles reported a new genus and species of fossil sheep from the Pliocene of Zanda Basin in Tibet. This finding extends the fossil record for the sheep into the Pliocene of the Tibetan Plateau, suggesting that the Tibetan Plateau, possibly including Tianshan-Altai, represents the ancestral home range(s) of mountain sheep and that these basal stocks were the ultimate source of all extant species, which is consistent with the Out-of-Tibet hypothesis regarding the origins of Ice Age megaherbivores.

New fossil materials were collected from IVPP locality ZD0712 in Guanjingtai, Zanda County, Tibetan Autonomous Region in western Himalaya during the 2006 and 2007 field seasons. The holotype specimen (IVPP V18928), forming the main basis of this new species, is a nearly complete male left and right horncores. With a total horncore upper curve length of 443 mm, it is similar in size to some extant species of Ovis.

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