Open Access Open Access  Restricted Access Subscription or Fee Access


An advanced, new long-legged bird from the Early Cretaceous of the Jehol Group (northeastern China): insights into the temporal divergence of modern birds



We describe a new ornithuromorph bird species, Gansus zheni from the Lower Cretaceous lacustrine deposits of the Jiufotang Formation (Jehol Group), Liaoning Province, China. A cladistic analysis resolves Gansus zheni as the sister taxon of the roughly contemporaneous Gansus yumenensis (Xiagou Formation, Gansu Province), and together as the most immediate outgroup to Ornithurae. Gansus zheni is the most advanced bird known today for the Jehol Biota. Its discovery provides the best-documented case of inter-basinal correlations (Jehol and Changma basins of Liaoning and Gansu provinces, respectively) using low-taxonomic clades of fossil birds. The existence of close relatives of Ornithurae in deposits formed at about 120 million years ago helps to mitigate the long-standing controversy between molecular and paleontological evidence for the temporal divergence of modern birds (Neornithes).


Early Cretaceous, Neornithes, birds, anatomy

Full Text:

PDF/A (7.43 MB)


Bell, A. & Chiappe, L.M. (2011) Statistical approach for inferring the ecology of Mesozoic birds. Journal of Systematic Paleontology, 9, 119–133.

Chiappe, L.M. (1995) The phylogenetic position of the Cretaceous birds of Argentina: Enantiornithes and Patagopteryx deferrariisi. Courier Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg, 181, 55–63.

Chiappe, L.M. (2002) Basal bird phylogeny: problems and solutions. In: Chiappe, L.M. & Witmer, L.M. Mesozoic Birds: Above the Heads of Dinosaurs. University of California Press, Berkeley, 448–472.

Chiappe, L.M., Zhao, B., O’Connor, J.K., Gao, C.L., Wang, X.R., Habib, M., Marugan, L.J., Meng, Q.J. & Cheng, X.D. (2014) A new specimen of the Early Cretaceous bird Hongshanornis longicresta: insights into the aerodynamics and diet of a basal ornithuromorph. PeerJ, 2, e234.

Clarke, J.A. (2004) Morphology, phylogenetic taxonomy, and systematics of Ichthyornis and Apatornis (Avialae: Ornithurae). Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, 286, 1–179.<0001:mptaso>;2

Clarke, J.A., Tambussi, C.P., Noriega, J.I., Erickson, G.M. & Ketcham, R.A. (2005) Definitive fossil evidence for the extant avian radiation in the Cretaceous. Nature, 433, 305–308.

Clarke, J.A., Zhou, Z.H. & Zhang, F.C. (2006) Insight into the evolution of avian flight from a new clade of Early Cretaceous ornithurines from China and the morphology of Yixianornis grabaui. Journal of Anatomy, 208, 287–308.

Cooper, A. & Penny, D. (1997) Mass survival of birds across the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary: molecular evidence. Science, 275 (5303), 1109–1113.

Dyke, G.J. & Tuinen, V. (2004) The evolutionary radiation of modern birds (Neornithes): reconciling molecules, morphology, and the fossil record. Zoological Journal of the Linnaean Society, 141, 153–177.

Goloboff, P.A., Farris, J.S. & Nixon, K.C. (2008) TNT, a free program for phylogenetic analysis. Cladistics, 24, 774–786.

Haddrath, O. & Baker, A.J. (2012) Complete mitochondrial DNA genetic sequence of extinct birds: ratite phylogenetics and the vicariance biogeography hypothesis. Proceedings of the Royal Academy of Sciences, London (B), 268, 939–945.

He, H.Y., Wang, X.L., Zhou, Z.H., Wang, F., Boven, A., Shi, H.G. & Zhu, R.X. (2004) Timing of the Jiufotang Formation (Jehol Group) in Liaoning, northeastern China, and its implications. Geophysical Research Letters, 31 (12), 1–4. [L12605]

Hope, S. (2002) The Mesozoic Record of Neornithes, In: Chiappe, L.M. & Witmer, L.M. (Ed.), Mesozoic Birds: Above the Heads of Dinosaurs. University of California Press, Berkeley, pp. 339388.

Hou, L.H. & Liu, Z.C. (1984) A new fossil bird from Lower Cretaceous of Gansu and early evolution of birds. Science in China, Series B, 27, 1296–1302.

Jetz, W., Thomas, G.H., Joy, J.B., Hartmann, K. & Mooers, A.O. (2012) The global diversity of birds in space and time. Nature, 491, 444–448.

Kurochkin, E.N., Dyke, G.J. & Karhu, A. (2002) A new presbyornithid bird (Aves: Anseriformes) from the Late Cretaceous of Southern Mongolia. American Museum Novitates, 3386, 1–11.<0001:anpbaa>;2

Li, J.J., Li, Z.H., Zhang, Y.G., Zhou, Z.H., Bai, Z.Q. & Ba, T.Y. (2008) A new species of Cathayornis from the Lower Cretaceous of Inner Mongolia, China and its stratigraphic significance. Acta Geologica Sinica, 82 (6), 1115–1123. [English edition]

Li, Y., Zhang, Y.G., Zhou, Z.H., Li, Z.H., Liu, D. & Wang, X.L. (2011) New material of Gansus and a discussion on its habit. Vertebrata PalAsiatica, 49 (4), 435–445. [in Chinese with English abstract]

Lee, M.S., Cau, A., Naish, D. & Dyke, G.J. (2014) Morphological clocks in palaeontology, and a mid-Cretaceous origin of crown Aves. Systematic Biology, 63 (3), 442–449.

Linnaeus, C. (1758) Systema Naturae. 10th Edition. Salvii Laurentii, Holmiae, 824 pp.

Liu, D., Zhou, Z.H. & Zhang, Y.G. (2012) Mass estimation and evolutionary trend in Chinese Mesozoic fossil birds. Vertebrata PalAsiatica, 50 (1), 45–58. [in Chinese with English abstract]

Longrich, N.R., Tokaryk, T. & Field, D.J. (2011) Mass extinction of birds at the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) boundary. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108 (37), 15253–15257.

Marsh, O.C. (1872) Notice of a new and remarkable fossil bird. American Journal of Sciences, Series 3, 4 (22), 344

Martin, L.D., Kurochkin, E.N. & Tokaryk, T.T. (2012) A new evolutionary lineage of diving birds from the Late Cretaceous of North America and Asia. Palaeoworld, 21 (1), 59–63.

Martin, J.E. & Cordes-Person, A. (2007) A new species of the diving bird Baptornis (Ornithurae: Hesperornithiformes) from the lower Pierre Shale Group (upper Cretaceous) of southwestern South Dakota. Geological Society of America Special Papers, 427, 227–237.

Mayr, G. (1999) Pumiliornis tessellates n. gen. n. sp., a new enigmatic bird from the Middle Eocene of Grube Messel (Hessen, Germany). Courier Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg, 216, 75–83.

Mayr, G. (2014) The origin of crown group birds: molecules and fossils. Palaeontology, 57, 231–242.

Norell, M.A. & Clarke, J.A. (2001) Fossil that fills a critical gap in avian evolution. Nature, 409, 181–184.

O’Connor, J.K. & Dyke, G. (2010) Reassessment of Sinornis santensis and Cathayornis yandica (Aves: Enantiornithes). Records of the Australian Museum, 62, 7–20.

O’Connor, J.K. & Zhou, Z.H. (2013) A redescription of Chaoyangia beishanensis (Aves) and a comprehensive phylogeny of Mesozoic birds. Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, 11, 889–906.

Olson, S.L. & Matsuoka, H. (2005) New specimens of the Eocene frigate bird Limnoregata (Pelecaniformes: Fregatidea), with the description of a new species. Zootaxa, 1046, 1–15.

Suarez, B.M., Ludvigson, A.G., González, A.L., Al-Suwaidi, H.A. & You, H.L. (2013) Stable isotope chemostratigraphy in lacustrine strata of the Xiagou Formation, Gansu Province, NW China. In: Bojar, A.V., Melinte-Dobrinescu, M.C. & Smit, J. (Eds.), Isotopic Studies in Cretaceous Research Geological Society. Special Publications 382. The Geological Society Publishing House, Bath, pp. 143–156.

Wang, M., O'Connor, J.K., Li, D.Q. & You, H.L. (2013) Previously unrecognized ornithuromorph bird diversity in the Early Cretaceous Changma Basin, Gansu Province, Northwestern China. PLoS ONE, 8 (10), e77693.

Wang, M., Zhou, Z.H. & O’Connor, J.K. (2014) A new diverse enantiornithine family (Bohaiornithidae fam. nov.) from the Lower Cretaceous of China with information from two new species. Vertebrata PalAsiatica, 52 (1), 31–76.

Wang, Y.M. (2014) Anatomy and phylogeny of Early Cretaceous Ornithuromorpha from Changma, Gansu Province, China. Thesis for Master’s Degree, 1–111. [in Chinese with English abstract]

Yeh, H.K. (1980) Fossil birds from Linqu, Shangdong. Vertebrata PalAsiatica, 18 (2), 116–125. [in Chinese with English abstract]

You, H.L., Lamanna, M.C., Harris, J.D., Chiappe, L.M., O’Connor, J.K., Ji, S.A., Lu, J.C., Yuan, C.X., Li, D.Q., Zhang, X., Lacovara, K.J., Dodson, P. & Ji, Q. (2006) A nearly modern amphibious bird from the Early Cretaceous of north western China. Science, 312, 1640–1643.

You, H.L., Atterholt, J., O'Connor, J.K., Harris, J.D., Lamanna, M.C. & Li, D.Q. (2010) A second Cretaceous ornithuromorph bird from the Changma Basin, Gansu Province, Northwestern China. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, 55, 617–625.

Zhou, Z.H., Jing, F. & Zhang, J.Y. (1992) Preliminary report on a Mesozoic bird from Liaoning, China. Chinese Science Bulletin, 37, 1365–1368.

Zhou, Z.H. & Zhang, F.C. (2001) Two new ornithurine birds from the Early Cretaceous of western Liaoning, China. Chinese Science Bulletin, 46, 1258–1264.

Zhou, Z.H. & Zhang, F.C. (2005) Discovery of an ornithurine bird and its implications for Early Cretaceous avian radiation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science U.S.A., 102, 18998–19002.

Zhou, Z.H. & Zhang, F.C. (2005) Anatomy of the basal ornithurine bird (Aves, Ornithurae) from the Lower Cretaceous of China. Zoologica Scripta, 35, 363–373.

Zhou, Z.H. & Zhang, F.C. (2006) A beaked basal ornithurine bird (Aves, Ornithurae) from the Lower Cretaceous of China. Zoologica Scripta, 35, 363–373.

Zhou, Z.H., Zhang, F.C. & Li, Z.H. (2009) A new basal orithurine (Jianchangornis microdonta gen. et sp.nov.) from the Lower Cretaceous of China. Vertebrata PalAsiatica, 47, 299–310.

Zhou, S., Zhou, Z.H. & O’Connor, J.K. (2012) A new basal beaked ornithurine bird from the Lower Cretaceous of Western Liaoning, China. Vertebrata PalAsiatica, 50 (1), 9–24.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

ISSN 1175-5326 (Print Edition) & ISSN 1175-5334 (Online Edition)
Published by Magnolia Press, Auckland, New Zealand
A founding journal of Biotaxa