Thursday, June 12, 2014

[PaleoMammalogy • 2014] Vulpes qiuzhudingi • From ‘Third Pole’ to North Pole: a Himalayan Origin for the Arctic Fox

 the Zanda fauna from the Pliocene about 5-2.5 million years ago, with Vulpes quizhudingi (foreground)
reconstruction: Artist Julie Selan; Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County 

The ‘third pole’ of the world is a fitting metaphor for the Himalayan–Tibetan Plateau, in allusion to its vast frozen terrain, rivalling the Arctic and Antarctic, at high altitude but low latitude. Living Tibetan and arctic mammals share adaptations to freezing temperatures such as long and thick winter fur in arctic muskox and Tibetan yak, and for carnivorans, a more predatory niche. Here, we report, to our knowledge, the first evolutionary link between an Early Pliocene (3.60–5.08 Myr ago) fox, Vulpes qiuzhudingi new species, from the Himalaya (Zanda Basin) and Kunlun Mountain (Kunlun Pass Basin) and the modern arctic fox Vulpes lagopus in the polar region. A highly hypercarnivorous dentition of the new fox bears a striking resemblance to that of V. lagopus and substantially predates the previous oldest records of the arctic fox by 3–4 Myr. The low latitude, high-altitude Tibetan Plateau is separated from the nearest modern arctic fox geographical range by at least 2000 km. The apparent connection between an ancestral high-elevation species and its modern polar descendant is consistent with our ‘Out-of-Tibet’ hypothesis postulating that high-altitude Tibet was a training ground for cold-environment adaptations well before the start of the Ice Age.

Keywords: Himalaya, Tibet, Arctic Fox, Canidae, Pliocene, zoogeography

Map of Pliocene Tibetan fox Vulpes qiuzhudingi localities (red stars), Ice Age arctic fox localities (yellow circles), and extant arctic fox Vulpes lagopus distribution.

Xiaoming Wang, Zhijie Jack Tseng, Qiang Li, Gary T. Takeuchi and Guangpu Xie. 2014. From ‘Third Pole’ to North Pole: a Himalayan Origin for the Arctic Fox. Proc. R. Soc. B. 281(1787). doi:

Ferocious foxes prowled the Himalayas five million years ago
: Fossils suggest Tibet was a 'training ground' for Ice Age adaptations via @MailOnline

- Vulpes quizhudingi was a hunter living in the Himalayas and Tibet
- The ancient fox lived between 3.6 million and five million years ago
- Experts think the creature was around the same size as a large modern fox
- They claim Tibet was a training ground for cold environment adaptations well before the start of the Ice Age