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Casanovas-Vilar, Isaac; Garcia-Porta, Joan; Fortuny, Josep; Sanisidro, Oscar; Prieto, Jérôme; Querejeta, Marina; Llacer, Sergio; Robles, Josep M.; Bernardini, Federico; Alba, David M. (2018): Oldest skeleton of a fossil flying squirrel casts new light on the phylogeny of the group. In: eLife, 7:e39270
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Abstract

Flying squirrels are the only group of gliding mammals with a remarkable diversity and wide geographical range. However, their evolutionary story is not well known. Thus far, identification of extinct flying squirrels has been exclusively based on dental features, which, contrary to certain postcranial characters, are not unique to them. Therefore, fossils attributed to this clade may indeed belong to other squirrel groups. Here we report the oldest fossil skeleton of a flying squirrel (11.6 Ma) that displays the gliding-related diagnostic features shared by extant forms and allows for a recalibration of the divergence time between tree and flying squirrels. Our phylogenetic analyses combining morphological and molecular data generally support older dates than previous molecular estimates (\~23 Ma), being congruent with the inclusion of some of the earliest fossils (\~36 Ma) into this clade. They also show that flying squirrels experienced little morphological change for almost 12 million years.