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Bioessays. 1999 Dec;21(12):1043-51.

Early origins of modern birds and mammals: molecules vs. morphology.

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Department of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom.


Recent claims from molecular evidence that modern orders of birds and mammals arose in the Early Cretaceous, over 100 million years (Myr) ago, are contrary to palaeontological evidence. The oldest fossils generally fall in the time range from 70-50 Myr ago, with no earlier finds. If the molecular results are correct, then the first half of the fossil record of modern birds and mammals is missing. Suggestions that this early history was played out in unexplored parts of the world, or that the early progenitors were obscure forms, are unlikely. Intense collecting over hundreds of years has failed to identify these missing fossils. Control experiments, in the form of numerous Cretaceous-age fossil localities which yield excellently preserved lizards, salamanders, birds, and mammals, fail to show the modern forms. The most likely explanation is that they simply did not exist, and that the molecular clock runs fast during major radiations.

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