Mio-Pleistocene Zanda Basin biostratigraphy and geochronology, pre-Ice Age fauna, and mammalian evolution in western Himalaya

Xiaoming Wang, Qiang Li, Guangpu Xie, Joel E. Saylor, Zhijie J. Tseng, Gary T. Takeuchi, Tao Deng, Yang Wang, Sukuan Hou, Juan Liu, Chunfu Zhang, Ning Wang, Feixiang Wu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


The Pliocene (5.3-2.6. Ma) of Tibet witnessed the drying of the northern Tibetan Plateau and the approach to the Pleistocene Ice Age within the background of intensifying Indian and East Asian monsoons. Yet little is known about Pliocene mammals living on the high Tibetan Plateau despite the fact that fossil mammals elsewhere constitute an important knowledge base for terrestrial environments. The late Miocene to Pleistocene Zanda Basin at the northern foothills of the Himalayas affords a welcome opportunity to evaluate the biological response to environmental change at high elevations. Abundant, well-preserved fossil mammals and fish from an 800-m continuous section of fine- to coarse-grained sediments thus open a rare window into a past biological world. For example, the discovery of an ancestral wooly rhino from Zanda Basin that was the precursor of its late Pleistocene megafaunal descendants leads to our "out-of Tibet" hypothesis, suggesting that the high Tibetan Plateau was a Pliocene cradle for Ice Age cold adaptations.In this paper, we document in detail the mammalian biostratigraphy, chronology, and paleozoogeography based on Zanda Basin fossil mammals. Our high-resolution biostratigraphy and biochronology offer for the first time independent constraints that both support and modify recent magnetostratigraphic correlations. Using characteristic Pliocene and Pleistocene mammals, particularly the small mammal assemblages in the lower part of the section and monodactylid Equus from the upper section, we propose a correlation to C1n to C3An.1r, with an age range of ~. 400. Ka to 6.4. Ma.Within the 800-m Zanda section, the lower 0-150. m is of latest Miocene age, spanning 6.4-5.3. Ma. Sparsely fossiliferous, the lower section has produced five taxa so far: Ochotona, Panthera, Qurliqnoria, Palaeotragus, and Hipparion-all are consistent with a late Miocene age. The middle 150-620. m section spans the entire Pliocene. This section is by far the most fossiliferous, including such typical Pliocene small mammals as Prosiphneus, Mimomys, Apodemus, and Trischizolagus, as well as large mammals such as Coelodonta thibetana, Hipparion zandaense, Chasmaporthetes, Nyctereutes, Meles, Antilospira, and others. In the upper 620-800. m section the fossils are rare, but do include characteristic Pleistocene taxa such as Equus.Zoogeographically Zanda Basin mammals are a mixture from two major sources. Taxa such as Mimomys, Prosiphneus, Trischizolagus, Chasmaporthetes, Nyctereutes, Meles, and Xenocyon are commonly found in north China or east Asia. In contrast, several forms, such as unique species of pikas (Ochotona), squirrels (Aepyosciurus), and ancestral Tibetan antelope (Qurliqnoria), seem to belong to an indigenous Tibetan fauna evolved within the plateau. A lack of shared taxa with the Oriental Realm suggests a formidable barrier by the Himalayas despite a short distance (~. 100. km) between Zanda Basin and the Indian subcontinent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)81-95
Number of pages15
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
StatePublished - Mar 15 2013


  • Fossil mammals
  • Miocene-Pliocene-Pleistocene
  • Stratigraphy
  • Tibetan Plateau
  • Zanda Basin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Palaeontology


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