A new basal sauropod from the pre-Toarcian Jurassic of South Africa: evidence of niche-partitioning at the sauropodomorph-sauropod boundary?
ABSTRACT: The early evolution of sauropod dinosaurs remains poorly understood, with a paucity of unequivocal sauropod taxa known from the first twenty million years of the Jurassic. Recently, the Early Jurassic of South Africa has yielded an assemblage of dental and post-cranial remains displaying a more apomorphic character suite than any other similarly aged sauropodomorph. These remains are interpreted as a new species of basal sauropod and recovered cladistically as the sister taxon to Vulcanodon +more derived Sauropoda, underscoring its importance for our understanding of this pivotal period of sauropod evolution. Key changes in the dentition, axial skeleton and forelimb of this new species suggest a genuine functional distinction occurring at the sauropodiform-sauropod boundary. With reference to these changes, we propose a scenario in which interdependent refinements of the locomotory and feeding apparatus occurred in tandem with, or were effected by, restrictions in the amount of vertical forage initially available to the earliest sauropods. The hypothesized instance of niche-partitioning between basal sauropodan taxa and higher-browsing non-sauropodan sauropodomorphs may partially explain the rarity of true sauropods in the basal rocks of the Jurassic, while having the added corollary of couching the origins of Sauropoda in terms of an ecologically delimited 'event'.
Project description:The early evolution of sauropod dinosaurs is poorly understood because of a highly incomplete fossil record. New discoveries of Early and Middle Jurassic sauropods have a great potential to lead to a better understanding of early sauropod evolution and to reevaluate the patterns of sauropod diversification.A new sauropod from the Middle Jurassic of Niger, Spinophorosaurus nigerensis n. gen. et sp., is the most complete basal sauropod currently known. The taxon shares many anatomical characters with Middle Jurassic East Asian sauropods, while it is strongly dissimilar to Lower and Middle Jurassic South American and Indian forms. A possible explanation for this pattern is a separation of Laurasian and South Gondwanan Middle Jurassic sauropod faunas by geographic barriers. Integration of phylogenetic analyses and paleogeographic data reveals congruence between early sauropod evolution and hypotheses about Jurassic paleoclimate and phytogeography.Spinophorosaurus demonstrates that many putatively derived characters of Middle Jurassic East Asian sauropods are plesiomorphic for eusauropods, while South Gondwanan eusauropods may represent a specialized line. The anatomy of Spinophorosaurus indicates that key innovations in Jurassic sauropod evolution might have taken place in North Africa, an area close to the equator with summer-wet climate at that time. Jurassic climatic zones and phytogeography possibly controlled early sauropod diversification.
Project description:The origin of sauropod dinosaurs is one of the major landmarks of dinosaur evolution but is still poorly understood. This drastic transformation involved major skeletal modifications, including a shift from the small and gracile condition of primitive sauropodomorphs to the gigantic and quadrupedal condition of sauropods. Recent findings in the Late Triassic-Early Jurassic of Gondwana provide critical evidence to understand the origin and early evolution of sauropods.A new sauropodomorph dinosaur, Leonerasaurus taquetrensis gen. et sp. nov., is described from the Las Leoneras Formation of Central Patagonia (Argentina). The new taxon is diagnosed by the presence of anterior unserrated teeth with a low spoon-shaped crown, amphicoelous and acamerate vertebral centra, four sacral vertebrae, and humeral deltopectoral crest low and medially deflected along its distal half. The phylogenetic analysis depicts Leonerasaurus as one of the closest outgroups of Sauropoda, being the sister taxon of a clade of large bodied taxa composed of Melanorosaurus and Sauropoda.The dental and postcranial anatomy of Leonerasaurus supports its close affinities with basal sauropods. Despite the small size and plesiomorphic skeletal anatomy of Leonerasaurus, the four vertebrae that compose its sacrum resemble that of the large-bodied primitive sauropods. This shows that the appearance of the sauropod-type of sacrum predated the marked increase in body size that characterizes the origins of sauropods, rejecting a causal explanation and evolutionary linkage between this sacral configuration and body size. Alternative phylogenetic placements of Leonerasaurus as a basal anchisaurian imply a convergent acquisition of the sauropod-type sacrum in the new small-bodied taxon, also rejecting an evolutionary dependence of sacral configuration and body size in sauropodomorphs. This and other recent discoveries are showing that the characteristic sauropod body plan evolved gradually, with a step-wise pattern of character appearance.
Project description:Sauropod dinosaur bones are common in Mesozoic terrestrial sediments, but sauropod skulls are exceedingly rare--cranial materials are known for less than one third of sauropod genera and even fewer are known from complete skulls. Here we describe the first complete sauropod skull from the Cretaceous of the Americas, Abydosaurus mcintoshi, n. gen., n. sp., known from 104.46 +/- 0.95 Ma (megannum) sediments from Dinosaur National Monument, USA. Abydosaurus shares close ancestry with Brachiosaurus, which appeared in the fossil record ca. 45 million years earlier and had substantially broader teeth. A survey of tooth shape in sauropodomorphs demonstrates that sauropods evolved broad crowns during the Early Jurassic but did not evolve narrow crowns until the Late Jurassic, when they occupied their greatest range of crown breadths. During the Cretaceous, brachiosaurids and other lineages independently underwent a marked diminution in tooth breadth, and before the latest Cretaceous broad-crowned sauropods were extinct on all continental landmasses. Differential survival and diversification of narrow-crowned sauropods in the Late Cretaceous appears to be a directed trend that was not correlated with changes in plant diversity or abundance, but may signal a shift towards elevated tooth replacement rates and high-wear dentition. Sauropods lacked many of the complex herbivorous adaptations present within contemporaneous ornithischian herbivores, such as beaks, cheeks, kinesis, and heterodonty. The spartan design of sauropod skulls may be related to their remarkably small size--sauropod skulls account for only 1/200th of total body volume compared to 1/30th body volume in ornithopod dinosaurs.
Project description:The lack of sauropod body fossils from the 20 My-long mid-Cenomanian to the late Campanian interval of the Late Cretaceous in Europe is referred to as the 'sauropod hiatus', with only a few footprints reported from the Apulian microplate (i.e. the southern part of the European archipelago). Here we describe a single tooth from the Santonian continental beds of Iharkút, Hungary, that represents the first European body fossil evidence of a sauropod from this critical time interval. The mosaic of derived and plesiomorphic features documented by the tooth crown morphology points to a basal titanosauriform affinity suggesting the occurrence of a clade of sauropods in the Upper Cretaceous of Europe that is quite different from the previously known Campano-Maastrichtian titanosaurs. Along with the footprints coming from shallow marine sediments, this tooth further strengthens the view that the extreme rarity of sauropod remains from this period of Europe is the result of sampling bias related to the dominance of coastal over inland sediments, in the latter of which sauropod fossils usually occur. This is also in line with the hypothesis that sauropods preferred inland habitats to swampy environments.
Project description:Four isolated sauropod axial elements from the Oxford Clay Formation (Callovian, Middle Jurassic) of Peterborough, UK, are described. Two associated posterior dorsal vertebrae show a dorsoventrally elongated centrum and short neural arch, and nutrient or pneumatic foramina, most likely belonging to a non-neosauropod eusauropod, but showing ambiguous non-neosauropod eusauropod and neosauropod affinities. An isolated anterior caudal vertebra displays a ventral keel, a 'shoulder' indicating a wing-like transverse process, along with a possible prespinal lamina. This, together with an overall high complexity of the anterior caudal transverse process (ACTP) complex, indicates that this caudal could have belonged to a neosauropod. A second isolated middle-posterior caudal vertebra also shows some diagnostic features, despite the neural spine and neural arch not being preserved and the neurocentral sutures being unfused. The positioning of the neurocentral sutures on the anterior one third of the centrum indicates a middle caudal position, and the presence of faint ventrolateral crests, as well as a rhomboid anterior articulation surface, suggest neosauropod affinities. The presence of possible nutrient foramina are only tentative evidence of a neosauropod origin, as they are also found in Late Jurassic non-neosauropod eusauropods. As the caudals from the two other known sauropods from the Peterborough Oxford Clay, Cetiosauriscus stewarti and an indeterminate non-neosauropod eusauropod, do not show the features seen on either of the new elements described, both isolated caudals indicate a higher sauropod species diversity in the faunal assemblage than previously recognised. An exploratory phylogenetic analysis using characters from all four isolated elements supports a basal neosauropod placement for the anterior caudal, and a diplodocid origin for the middle caudal. The dorsal vertebrae are an unstable OTU, and therefore remain part of an indeterminate eusauropod of uncertain affinities. Together with Cetiosauriscus, and other material assigned to different sauropod groups, this study indicates the presence of a higher sauropod biodiversity in the Oxford Clay Formation than previously recognised. This study shows that it is still beneficial to examine isolated elements, as these may be indicators for higher species richness in deposits that are otherwise poor in terrestrial fauna.
Project description:The colossal size and body plan of sauropod dinosaurs are unparalleled in terrestrial vertebrates. However, to date, there have been only limited attempts to examine temporal and phylogenetic patterns in the sauropod bauplan. Here, we combine three-dimensional computational models with phylogenetic reconstructions to quantify the evolution of whole-body shape and body segment properties across the sauropod radiation. Limitations associated with the absence of soft tissue preservation in fossils result in large error bars about mean absolute body shape predictions. However, applying any consistent skeleton?:?body volume ratio to all taxa does yield changes in body shape that appear concurrent with major macroevolutionary events in sauropod history. A caudad shift in centre-of-mass (CoM) in Middle Triassic Saurischia, associated with the evolution of bipedalism in various dinosaur lineages, was reversed in Late Triassic sauropodomorphs. A craniad CoM shift coincided with the evolution of quadrupedalism in the Late Triassic, followed by a more striking craniad shift in Late Jurassic-Cretaceous titanosauriforms, which included the largest sauropods. These craniad CoM shifts are strongly correlated with neck enlargement, a key innovation in sauropod evolution and pivotal to their gigantism. By creating a much larger feeding envelope, neck elongation is thought to have increased feeding efficiency and opened up trophic niches that were inaccessible to other herbivores. However, we find that relative neck size and CoM position are not strongly correlated with inferred feeding habits. Instead the craniad CoM positions of titanosauriforms appear closely linked with locomotion and environmental distributions, potentially contributing to the continued success of this group until the end-Cretaceous, with all other sauropods having gone extinct by the early Late Cretaceous.
Project description:BACKGROUND: Sauropod dinosaurs were the largest animals ever to walk on land, and, as a result, the evolution of their remarkable adaptations has been of great interest. The braincase is of particular interest because it houses the brain and inner ear. However, only a few studies of these structures in sauropods are available to date. Because of the phylogenetic position of Spinophorosaurus nigerensis as a basal eusauropod, the braincase has the potential to provide key evidence on the evolutionary transition relative to other dinosaurs. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: The only known braincase of Spinophorosaurus ('Argiles de l'Irhazer', Irhazer Group; Agadez region, Niger) differs significantly from those of the Jurassic sauropods examined, except potentially for Atlasaurus imelakei (Tilougguit Formation, Morocco). The basisphenoids of Spinophorosaurus and Atlasaurus bear basipterygoid processes that are comparable in being directed strongly caudally. The Spinophorosaurus specimen was CT scanned, and 3D renderings of the cranial endocast and inner-ear system were generated. The endocast resembles that of most other sauropods in having well-marked pontine and cerebral flexures, a large and oblong pituitary fossa, and in having the brain structure obscured by the former existence of relatively thick meninges and dural venous sinuses. The labyrinth is characterized by long and proportionally slender semicircular canals. This condition recalls, in particular, that of the basal non-sauropod sauropodomorph Massospondylus and the basal titanosauriform Giraffatitan. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: Spinophorosaurus has a moderately derived paleoneuroanatomical pattern. In contrast to what might be expected early within a lineage leading to plant-eating graviportal quadrupeds, Spinophorosaurus and other (but not all) sauropodomorphs show no reduction of the vestibular apparatus of the inner ear. This character-state is possibly a primitive retention in Spinophorosaurus, but due the scarcity of data it remains unclear whether it is also the case in the various later sauropods in which it is present or whether it has developed homoplastically in these taxa. Any interpretations remain tentative pending the more comprehensive quantitative analysis underway, but the size and morphology of the labyrinth of sauropodomorphs may be related to neck length and mobility, among other factors.
Project description:A partial dinosaur skeleton from the Upper Triassic (Norian) sediments of South Africa is described and named Antetonitrus ingenipes. It provides the first informative look at a basal sauropod that was beginning to show adaptations towards graviportal quadrupedalism such as an elongated forelimb, a modified femoral architecture, a shortened metatarsus and a changed distribution of weight across the foot. These adaptations allowed the clade to produce the largest-ever terrestrial animals. However, A. ingenipes lacked specializations of the hand found in more derived sauropods that indicate it retained the ability to grasp. Antetonitrus is older than the recently described Isanosaurus from Thailand and is the oldest known definitive sauropod.
Project description:Sauropodomorpha were herbivorous saurischian dinosaurs that incorporate Sauropoda and early-diverging sauropodomorphs. The oldest sauropodomorph remains are known from Late Triassic deposits, most of them Gondwanan. The Laurasian record comprises some Triassic forms, but the bulk is Jurassic in age. Among the 14 Jurassic non-sauropodan sauropodomorphs from Laurasia described in the past, 8 are from China. Here we describe a new non-sauropodan sauropodomorph, Irisosaurus yimenensis gen. et sp. nov., from the Early Jurassic Fengjiahe Formation of China. Nearly all of the non-sauropodan sauropodomorph genera currently known from China were first reported from the Lufeng Formation. The Fengjiahe Formation is its Southern equivalent, bringing a fauna similar to that of the Lufeng Formation to light. The new genus is defined based on an incomplete but unique maxilla, with a premaxillary ramus higher than long prior to the nasal process, a large and deep neurovascular foramen within the perinarial fossa, and a deep perinarial fossa defined by a sharp rim. Phylogenetic analysis places Irisosaurus at the very base of Sauropodiformes, as the sister-taxon of the Argentinean genus Mussaurus. This specimen adds to a growing assemblage of Chinese Jurassic non-sauropodan sauropodomorphs that offers new insight into the Laurasian evolution of this clade.
Project description:Titanosauria is an exceptionally diverse, globally-distributed clade of sauropod dinosaurs that includes the largest known land animals. Knowledge of titanosaurian pedal structure is critical to understanding the stance and locomotion of these enormous herbivores and, by extension, gigantic terrestrial vertebrates as a whole. However, completely preserved pedes are extremely rare among Titanosauria, especially as regards the truly giant members of the group. Here we describe Notocolossus gonzalezparejasi gen. et sp. nov. from the Upper Cretaceous of Mendoza Province, Argentina. With a powerfully-constructed humerus 1.76 m in length, Notocolossus is one of the largest known dinosaurs. Furthermore, the complete pes of the new taxon exhibits a strikingly compact, homogeneous metatarsus--seemingly adapted for bearing extraordinary weight--and truncated unguals, morphologies that are otherwise unknown in Sauropoda. The pes underwent a near-progressive reduction in the number of phalanges along the line to derived titanosaurs, eventually resulting in the reduced hind foot of these sauropods.