Collaborative Research: Paleobiogeography, paleoecology, and continued investigation of a diverse, terminal Miocene, primate-bearing fauna from southern China

Project: Research project

Project Details


The early and middle Miocene (ca. 23-11 million years ago) witnessed an expansion of the world's tropical and subtropical forests, and an increase in the diversity and distribution of mammals that thrived in forests with low seasonality and high productivity. Apes flourished under these conditions in the Old World. The contraction of subtropical forests in the late Miocene in Eurasia resulted in a decline in the diversity and abundance of apes, and the rise of monkeys and other mammals able to survive in more open and seasonal habitats. Several fossil sites in southern China provide evidence of this critical transition. In this project, the fossil site of Shuitangba, Yunnan Province, China, will be investigated because it has yielded the abundant and well-preserved remains of many mammal species of terminal Miocene age (~6.1 mya). Among them are an ape and a monkey, the first such co-occurrence in the Miocene of Eurasia. Recovery and detailed study of the fossils by an international team of American and Chinese investigators will make possible the characterization of the paleoenvironment of Shuitangba and the nature and adaptations of the site's many species, especially its primates and carnivores. Direct comparison of the Shuitangba biota with others of similar age in eastern Asia will provide a clearer idea of the nature and pace of environmental evolution in the region.

Shuitangba captures a unique snapshot of the transition from the widespread evergreen forests of the Miocene to the more heterogeneous and seasonal habitats that followed. This project thus promotes the understanding of an ecosystem poised at the tipping point of a major change. The Shuitangba fauna and environment provide an unusually clear picture of a distinctive regional ecosystem that contained long-established species alongside new arrivals. A better understanding of the adaptations of species within such ecosystems may shed light on the dynamics of modern unstable environments.

This project fosters strong international collaboration with Chinese scholars, including advanced training for Chinese paleoanthropologists, paleobiologists, and fossil preparators, and promotes public science education in China through media coverage and development of museum displays. A junior US scientist will be integrally involved in the research, and US undergraduate students also will receive substantial participatory research training.

Effective start/end date9/1/128/31/18


  • National Science Foundation: $89,019.00


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