The Yanliao Biota from northern China is one of the most famous Mesozoic terrestrial lagerstätten in the world, with well-preserved fossil records in the Jurassic volcanic-sedimentary Ningcheng and Jianchang basins. However, the temporal evolution of the Yanliao Biota remains controversial, mainly due to the confusing stratigraphic framework and the unclear age of fossiliferous deposits in the Ningcheng basin. To address this issue, we carried out detailed field investigations and secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) U-Pb age dating of zircons on fossiliferous and related strata in the southern part of the Ningcheng basin. The Jurassic infill of this area is composed of, in ascending order, fossil-bearing tuffaceous clastic rocks (unit 1), andesite and pyroclastic rocks (unit 2), fossil-bearing clastic rocks interlayered with minor volcanic rocks (unit 3), and andesite and pyroclastic rocks (unit 4). Integration of stratigraphic and geochronological data indicates that the Yanliao Biota in the Ningcheng basin appeared no later than ca. 163 Ma and lasted until ca. 156 Ma. A comparison with other analogous basins in northern China (e.g., the Luanping, Jianchang, and Beipiao basins) leads to the conclusion that the Yanliao Biota evolved in two phases and lasted for more than 11 m.y.: the first phase from ca. 167 Ma to ca. 163 Ma in the middle Bathonian to middle Callovian, followed by the second phase between ca. 161 Ma and ca. 156 Ma in the lower and middle Oxfordian.

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