A Lighthouse in the Gobi Desert
Published:28 Mar.2024    Source:Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

While famous as the region where Velociraptor was discovered, China and Mongolia's Late Cretaceous Gobi Desert might have more of an impact on our understanding of ancient--and modern--life thanks to its rich record of fossil lizards. You're getting many lineages on the squamate Tree of Life represented from this single unit, giving humanthis remarkable fossil signal of biodiversity in the rock record, something that stands out as a lighthouse in the deep dark chasms of squamate evolutionary history.

More complete skeletons make it easier to trace relationships through time by making it easier to compare similarities and differences. The more complete a skeleton is, the more traits are preserved, and those traits translate into phylogenetic data--data that are used to construct the tree of life. When it came to squamates, the researchers found no correlation between the intensity of sampling and whether any given site impacted phylogenetic data on a global scale.
A new study explores the weight great fossil sites have on our understanding of evolutionary relationships between fossil groups and quantified the power these sites have on our understanding of evolutionary history. Surprisingly, the authors discovered that the wind-swept sand deposits of the Late Cretaceous Gobi Desert's extraordinarily diverse and well-preserved fossil lizard record shapes our understanding of their evolutionary history more than any other site on the planet.