|An illustration of prehistoric life in the Tibetan Plateau with possible ancestors of the present-day arctic foxes hunting Tibetan antelopes.|
Scientists have recently discovered that the newly recognized prehistoric Tibetan fox is the ancestor of the modern-day arctic fox, indicating that the animals used the Tibetan Plateau as an aid to adapting in the Arctic region. This study has been published in the research journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences showing that a recently discovered three to five million-year-old Tibetan fox, known scientifically as Vulpes qiuzhudingi, is a possible ancestor of the arctic fox. The data is said to provide support to an idea known as the "out of Tibet" hypothesis, which states that the evolution of present-day Arctic animals is closely linked to their prehistoric ancestors that first became adapted to survive in cold regions in the high altitudes of the Tibetan Plateau. The origin of this discovery dates back to 2010 when a team of geologists and paleontologists led by Dr. Xiaoming Wang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology unearthed fossil specimens in the Zanda Basin in southern Tibet. In addition to the fox, the team discovered extinct species of a badger, bharal (blue sheep), snow leopard, three-toed horse, Tibetan antelope (chiru), woolly rhinoceros, and 23 other mammals. According to Dr. Wang, Tibet is an unexplored place and the discovery of these fossil specimens are helping in the rewriting of an important chapter of Earth's current geological history.
It is extremely amazing to know that the ancestry of arctic foxes dates back to the Tibetan Plateau millions of years ago. This indicates that the ancestors of the arctic fox and even some other wild animals that currently inhabit the Arctic region had not previously lived in the extreme conditions, but further south into the Tibetan Plateau. In fact, the discovery of this prehistoric fox along with the assemblage of other fossilized animals contradicts the origin of Pleistocene megafauna in the Arctic or frozen steppes elsewhere in the world. Instead, some of the megafauna, which includes the saber-toothed cat, woolly mammoth, and the woolly rhinoceros, originated from Tibet which served as a "training ground" for cultivating adaptations that enabled them to survive severe climatic conditions in the Arctic and surrounding regions. In other words, the prehistoric animals from the Pleistocene epoch were pre-adapted to cold climates during the Ice Age.
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