A burrowing frog from the late Paleocene of Mongolia uncovers a deep history of spadefoot toads (Pelobatoidea) in East Asia

Jianye Chen, Gaberiel S. Bever, Hong Yu Yi, Mark A. Norell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Fossils are indispensible in understanding the evolutionary origins of the modern fauna. Crown-group spadefoot toads (Anura: Pelobatoidea) are the best-known fossorial frog clade to inhabit arid environments, with species utilizing a characteristic bony spade on their foot for burrowing. Endemic to the Northern Hemisphere, they are distributed across the Holarctic except East Asia. Here we report a rare fossil of a crown-group spadefoot toad from the late Paleocene of Mongolia. The phylogenetic analysis using both morphological and molecular information recovered this Asian fossil inside the modern North American pelobatoid clade Scaphiopodidae. The presence of a spade and the phylogenetic position of the new fossil frog strongly support its burrowing behavior. The late Paleocene age and other information suggestive of a mild climate cast doubt on the conventional assertion that burrowing evolved as an adaptation to aridity in spadefoot toads. Temporally and geographically, the new fossil provides the earliest record of Scaphiopodidae worldwide, and the only member of the group in Asia. Quantitative biogeographic analysis suggests that Scaphiopodidae, despite originating in North America, dispersed into East Asia via Beringia in the Early Cenozoic. The absence of spadefoot toads in East Asia today is a result of extinction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number19209
JournalScientific reports
Volume6
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 11 2016
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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