Abstract

Since the late 1990s, eight localities in volcanic shale-rich lacustrine deposits of Middle Jurassic through Early Cretaceous age in northern China (western Liaoning Province, northern Hebei Province, and southern Inner Mongolia) have yielded thousands of exceptionally well-preserved salamander specimens. With 10 species published and several new taxa yet to be named and described, the fossil samples from northern China represent the most species-diverse, individually abundant, and exquisitely preserved salamander fossil assemblage known from the Mesozoic Era. The stratigraphic range of the fossil record covers a geologic time span of roughly 40–45 million years from the Middle Jurassic (Bathonian) through the Early Cretaceous (Aptian). In contrast to the well-known stem-group salamanders Karaurus and Kokartus from the Middle to Late Jurassic of Middle Asia, the Chinese record contains the earliest known crown-group salamanders, including Jurassic representatives of both Cryptobranchoidea and Salamandroidea. The Chinese Mesozoic record includes numerous examples of virtually complete larval, juvenile, young adult, and fully grown adult individuals that collectively provide key information on the life histories and developmental patterns of the earliest known crown-group salamanders. Many specimens show preservation of soft tissue structures, including body outline, eye, liver, and external gill filaments. This kind of soft tissue preservation is unusual for fossil salamanders, so the Chinese Mesozoic specimens are important for furnishing otherwise unavailable information on the life history, diversity, and ecological adaptations of early crown-group salamanders.

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