Field of Science

Dr. Ruth L. Elder - July 22, 1954 – Nov. 4, 2014

Dr. Ruth L. (Jessie) Elder passed away earlier this month at the age of 60.  Dr. Elder is best known in the vertebrate paleontology community for her work on the Triassic vertebrate fauna from the Dockum Group near Otis Chalk, Texas. The purported rhynchosaurian Otischalkia elderae is named in her honor.

Dr. Elder's obituary can be viewed here.

Garjainia madiba, a new Erythrosuchid Archosauriform from the Early Triassic of South Africa

Gower, D. J., Hancox, P. J., Botha-Brink, J., Sennikov, A. G., and R. J. Butler. 2014. A New Species of Garjainia Ochev, 1958 (Diapsida: Archosauriformes: Erythrosuchidae) from the Early Triassic of South Africa. PLoS ONE 9(11): e111154. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0111154

Abstract -
A new species of the erythrosuchid archosauriform reptile Garjainia Ochev, 1958 is described on the basis of disarticulated but abundant and well-preserved cranial and postcranial material from the late Early Triassic (late Olenekian) Subzone A of the Cynognathus Assemblage Zone of the Burgersdorp Formation (Beaufort Group) of the Karoo Basin of South Africa. The new species, G. madiba, differs from its unique congener, G. prima from the late Olenekian of European
Russia, most notably in having large bony bosses on the lateral surfaces of the jugals and postorbitals. The new species also has more teeth and a proportionately longer postacetabular process of the ilium than G. prima. Analysis of G. madiba bone histology reveals thick compact cortices comprised of highly vascularized, rapidly forming fibro-lamellar bone tissue, similar to Erythrosuchus africanus from Subzone B of the Cynognathus Assemblage Zone. The most notable differences between the two taxa are the predominance of a radiating vascular network and presence of annuli in the limb bones of G. madiba. These features indicate rapid growth rates, consistent with data for many other Triassic archosauriforms, but also a high degree of developmental plasticity as growth remained flexible. The diagnoses of Garjainia and of Erythrosuchidae are addressed and revised. Garjainia madiba is the geologically oldest erythrosuchid known from the Southern Hemisphere, and demonstrates that erythrosuchids achieved a cosmopolitan biogeographical distribution by the end of the Early Triassic, within five million years of the end-Permian mass extinction event. It provides new insights into the diversity of the Subzone A vertebrate assemblage, which partially fills a major gap between classic ‘faunal’ assemblages from the older Lystrosaurus Assemblage Zone (earliest Triassic) and the younger Subzone B of the Cynognathus Assemblage Zone (early Middle Triassic).

Garjainia madiba reconstruction by Mark Witton

Significance of Skeletal Variation in the Late Triassic Dinosauriform Silesaurus opolensis

Piechowski, P., Tałanda, M., and J. Dzik. 2014. Skeletal variation and ontogeny of the Late Triassic Dinosauriform Silesaurus opolensis. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 34:1383-1393 DOI:10.1080/02724634.2014.873045

Abstract -
A principal component analysis (PCA) performed for a set of 24 measurements on 33 femora and 15 measurements on 20 ilia of Silesaurus opolensis from the early Late Triassic of Krasiejów, southern Poland, shows that this sample is highly variable but probably monospecific. Most of the morphological variation is concentrated in the muscle attachments and proportions of bones, which significantly change in both size and position during ontogeny. Despite the small sample size, femora of smaller individuals have less flattened shafts and a more sinusoidal appearance. In many large specimens, proximal parts of muscle tendons are ossified at their attachment site on femora and remain attached to the bone in the largest specimens. The specimens with attached ossifications are interpreted as mature females that were statistically larger than proposed males. It is suggested that ossifications developed in females under calcitonin control. The intrapopulation variability of ilia is high, but less dependant on ontogeny. The population represented by a few specimens from the lower level at Krasiejów may represent a different stage in the evolution of the species than that from the upper horizon.

Cartorhynchus lenticarpus, a New Basal Ichthyosauriform from the Lower Triassic of China

Amazing!

Motani, R., Jiang, D.-Y., Chen, G.-B., Tintori, A., Rieppel, O., Ji, C., and J.-D. Huang. 2014. A basal ichthyosauriform with a short snout from the Lower Triassic of China. Nature (article preview). doi:10.1038/nature13866

Abstract -
The incompleteness of the fossil record obscures the origin of many of the more derived clades of vertebrates. One such group is the Ichthyopterygia, a clade of obligatory marine reptiles that appeared in the Early Triassic epoch, without any known intermediates. Here we describe a basal ichthyosauriform from the upper Lower Triassic (about 248 million years ago) of China, whose primitive skeleton indicates possible amphibious habits. It is smaller than ichthyopterygians and had unusually large flippers that probably allowed limited terrestrial locomotion. It also retained characteristics of terrestrial diapsid reptiles, including a short snout and body trunk. Unlike more derived ichthyosauriforms, it was probably a suction feeder. The new species supports the sister-group relationships between ichthyosauriforms and Hupehsuchia, the two forming the Ichthyosauromorpha. Basal ichthyosauromorphs are known exclusively from south China, suggesting
that the clade originated in the region, which formed a warm and humid tropical archipelago in the Early Triassic. The oldest unequivocal record of a sauropterygian is also from the same stratigraphic unit of the region.

Description of the Ornithosuchid Archosaurian Venaticosuchus rusconii from the Late Triassic of Argentina and the Phylogeny of the Ornithosuchidae

Von Baczko, M. B., Desojo, J. B., and D. Pol. 2014. Anatomy and phylogenetic position of Venaticosuchus rusconii Bonaparte, 1970 (Archosauria, Pseudosuchia), from the Ischigualasto Formation (Late Triassic), La Rioja, Argentina. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 34:1342-1356 DOI:10.1080/02724634.2014.860150

Abstract -
Ornithosuchidae is a group of Late Triassic pseudosuchian archosaurs of controversial phylogenetic affinities. This clade currently comprises three taxa: Venaticosuchus rusconii and Riojasuchus tenuisceps, both from Argentina, and Ornithosuchus longidens, from Scotland. V. rusconii was erected on the basis of an incomplete skull with articulated lower jaws and some elements of the postcranium that are currently lost. Venaticosuchus rusconii is redescribed here and included for the first time in a phylogenetic analysis to test its affinities with ornithosuchids. The bizarre morphology of V. rusconii has a unique combination of traits that distinguishes it from the other ornithosuchids, such as basipterygoid processes directed ventrally, dentary with the dorsal margin of the anterior end dorsally expanded, articular without a foramen on its medial side, and the absence of a surangular foramen, corroborating the validity of this taxon. V. rusconii is recovered as an ornithosuchid more closely related to R. tenuisceps than to O. longidens, based on the presence of a nearly pointed anterior margin of the antorbital fenestra, and a vertical bony strut of the jugal that separates the antorbital fenestra from the infratemporal fenestra.

Nundasuchus songeaensis, a New Archosauriform from the Middle Triassic of Tanzania and its Implications for the Phylogeny of the Archosauria

Nesbitt, S. J., Sidor, C. A., Angielczyk, K. D., Smith, R. M. H., and L. A. Tsuji. 2014. A new archosaur from the Manda beds (Anisian, Middle Triassic) of southern Tanzania and its implications for character state optimizations at Archosauria and Pseudosuchia. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 34:1357-1382 DOI:10.1080/02724634.2014.859622

Abstract -
The presence of early pseudosuchians and avemetatarsalians in Anisian beds of Africa demonstrates that the archosaur radiation was well underway by the beginning of the Middle Triassic. The rapid radiation produced a variety of forms, but many of the unique, well-diagnosed
Late Triassic clades (e.g., Aetosauria, Ornithosuchidae) lack diagnosable members from the Middle Triassic. Here, we introduce a new Middle Triassic archosaur, Nundasuchus songeaensis, gen. et sp. nov., with an unusual mix of apomorphic character states found within Pseudosuchia and just outside Archosauria. The holotype consists of partial skeleton, including representative postcranial elements and parts of the skull. We added Nundasuchus songeaensis, gen. et sp. nov., into the two most comprehensive early archosaur phylogenetic data sets available, and in both analyses the new taxon falls within Pseudosuchia. However, a number of plesiomorphic archosaurian character states (e.g., posterolaterally directed tuber of the calcaneum) optimize as local autapomorphies of the new taxon within Pseudosuchia in our analyses. Therefore, we tested alternative hypotheses of relationships for the new taxon by utilizing constraint trees. The analyses resulted in little change in the relationships and structure of other Triassic archosaur clades, but changed optimizations of certain character states and character support at the base of Pseudosuchia and Archosauria. Our analyses suggest that the
complex evolution of character-state changes at the base of Archosauria is inhibiting our understanding of the relationships of early Pseudosuchia and, in turn, Archosauria.

Principal Features of the Mammalian Nasal Cavity were Present in Triassic Eucynodonts

Ruf, I., Maier, W., Rodrigues, P. G., and C. L. Schultz. 2014. Nasal Anatomy of the Non-mammaliaform Cynodont Brasilitherium riograndensis (Eucynodontia, Therapsida) Reveals New Insight into Mammalian Evolution. The Anatomical Record 297: 2018–2030. DOI: 10.1002/ar.23022
Abstract - The mammalian nasal cavity is characterized by a unique anatomy with complex internal features. The evolution of turbinals was correlated with endothermic and macrosmatic adaptations in therapsids and in early mammals, which is still apparent in their twofold function (warming and moistening of air, olfaction). Fossil evidence for the transformation from the nonmammalian to the mammalian nasal cavity pattern has been poor and inadequate. Ossification of the cartilaginous nasal capsule and turbinals seems to be a feature that occurred only very late in synapsid evolution but delicate ethmoidal bones are rarely preserved. Here we provide the first µCT investigation of the nasal cavity of the advanced non-mammaliaform cynodont Brasilitherium riograndensis from the Late Triassic of Southern Brazil, a member of the sister-group of mammaliaforms, in order to elucidate a critical anatomical transition in early mammalian evolution. Brasilitherium riograndensis already had at least partially ossified turbinals as remnants of the nasoturbinal and the first ethmoturbinal are preserved. The posterior nasal septum is partly ossified and contributes to a mesethmoid. The nasal cavity is posteriorly expanded and forms a distinctive pars posterior (ethmoidal recess) that is ventrally separated from the nasopharyngeal duct by a distinct lamina terminalis. Thus, our observations clearly demonstrate that principal features of the mammalian nasal cavity were already present in the sister-group of mammaliaforms.

Panguraptor lufengensis, a New Coelophysoid Theropod Dinosaur from the Lower Jurassic of China

You, H.-L., Azuma, Y., Wang, T., Wang, Y.-M., and Z.-M. Dong. 2014. The first well-preserved coelophysoid theropod dinosaur from Asia. Zootaxa 3873:233–249.

Abstract - Previously reported coelophysoid material from Asia (excluding the Gondwanan territory of India) is limited to two specimens that comprise only limb fragments. This paper describes a new genus and species of coelophysoid, Panguraptor lufengensis, from the Lower Jurassic Lufeng Formation of Yunnan Province, China. The new taxon is represented by a well-preserved skeleton, including the skull and lower jaw, the presacral vertebral column and partial ribs, the right scapula, a partial forelimb, part of the pelvic girdle, and an almost complete hind limb. It is distinguished from other coelophysoid theropods by the unique combination of the following three character states: 1) diagonal (rostrodorsal-caudoventral) ridge on lateral surface of maxilla, within antorbital fossa, 2) elliptical, laterally facing fenestra caudodorsal to aforementioned diagonal ridge, and 3) hooked craniomedial corner of distal tarsal IV. Cladistic analysis recovers Panguraptor lufengensis deeply nested within Coelophysoidea as a member of Coelophysidae, and it is more closely related to Coelophysis than to “Syntarsus”. Panguraptor represents the first well-preserved coelophysoid theropod dinosaur from Asia, and provides fresh evidence supporting the hypothesis that terrestrial tetrapods tended to be distributed pan-continentally during the Early Jurassic.

Functional and Biomechanic Aspects of the Scapular Girdle and Forelimbs of Unaysaurus tolentinoi

Vargas-Peixoto, D., Stock Da-Rosa, Á, A., and M. A. G. França. 2014. Functional and biomechanic aspects of the scapular girdle and forelimbs of Unaysaurus tolentinoi Leal et al., 2004 (Saurischia: Sauropodomorpha). Journal of South American Earth Sciences. Accepted Manuscript. DOI: 10.1016/j.jsames.2014.09.024

Abstract -
 This study presents evidence about the biomechanics and forelimbs functionality of the basal sauropodomorph Unaysaurus tolentinoi (upper portion of the SM2 sequence, Santa Maria Supersequence, Upper Triassic from southern Brazil). Maximum and minimum motion angles were inferred in the joints, disregarding the presence and/or thickness of cartilage. Furthermore, processes and external structures of the bones were analyzed in attributing the functionality of forelimbs. Unaysaurus tolentinoi had well-developed grapple ability. However, the preserved elements and their osteological features are not conclusive about strictly bipedalism or quadrupedalism in U. tolentinoi.

Tachiraptor admirabilis and the Early Dispersal of Dinosaurs after the end-Triassic Extinction

Langer, M. C., Rincón, A. D., Ramezani, J., Solórzano, A., and O. W. M. Rauhut. 2014. New dinosaur (Theropoda, stem-Averostra) from the earliest Jurassic of the La Quinta Formation,
Venezuelan Andes. Royal Society Open Science 1: 140184.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsos.140184

Abstract - Dinosaur skeletal remains are almost unknown from northern South America. One of the few exceptions comes from a small outcrop in the northernmost extension of the Andes, along the
western border of Venezuela, where strata of the La Quinta Formation have yielded the ornithischian Laquintasaura venezuelae and other dinosaur remains. Here, we report isolated bones (ischium and tibia) of a small new theropod, Tachiraptor admirabilis gen. et sp. nov., which differs from all previously known members of the group by an unique suite of features of its tibial articulations. Comparative/phylogenetic studies place the new form as the sister taxon to Averostra, a theropod group that is known primarily from the Middle Jurassic onwards. A new U–Pb zircon date (isotope dilution thermal-ionization mass spectrometry; ID-TIMS method) from the bone bed matrix suggests an earliest Jurassic maximum age for the La Quinta Formation. A dispersal–vicariance analysis suggests that such a stratigraphic gap is more likely to be filled by new records from north and central Pangaea than from southern areas. Indeed, our data show that the sampled summer-wet equatorial belt, which yielded the new taxon, played a pivotal role in theropod evolution across the Triassic–Jurassic boundary

Tachiraptor admirabilis, a New Theropod Dinosaur from the Earliest Jurassic of Venezuela

     MAURÍLIO OLIVEIRA


The paper will be out on October 8th, but Science's website already has a news article up about the find. It is from the same locality as the early ornithischian dinosaur Laquintasaura, which was described earlier this year.


Lithostratigraphy and biostratigraphy of the Chinle Formation in Lisbon Valley, Utah

The stratigraphy of the Chinle Formation in Lisbon Valley, Utah has been somewhat controversial. This paper is the result of several seasons of fieldwork and provides an intense revision of the local stratigraphy as well as discussion of the fossils found in these rocks. Martz et al. provide a large amount of information and are careful to make sure that their work is repeatable as possible. To this end they provide coordinates and labelled photos of their measured sections as well as a list of voucher specimens for all of the fossil taxa. Martz's work continues to raise the bar not only for studies in the Upper Triassic of Utah, but also for stratigraphic and biostratigraphic work in general.



Martz, J. W., Irmis, R. B., and A.R.C. Milner. 2014. Lithostratigraphy and biostratigraphy of the Chinle Formation (Upper Triassic) in southern Lisbon Valley, southeastern Utah; pp. 397-448 in MacLean, J.S., Biek, R.F., and J.E. Huntoon (eds.), Geology of Utah's Far South. Utah Geological Association Publication 43.

Abstract - We present here a detailed study of the lithostratigraphy and preliminary vertebrate biostratigraphy of the Upper Triassic Chinle Formation in Lisbon Valley, southeastern Utah. Triassic salt tectonism resulted in a period of erosion and possibly non-deposition that removed the top of the Lower Permian Cutler Group, the Early-Middle Triassic Moenkopi Formation, and the Late Triassic (earliest Norian) Shinarump Member of the Chinle Formation. Chinle Formation deposition in Lisbon Valley began or resumed sometime during the middle-late Norian or Rhaetian and terminated before the end of the Rhaetian. Chinle Formation sediments are mostly siltstone to fine-grained sandstone dominated by planar cross-bedding and climbing ripple cross-lamination; these sediments generally exhibit poor paleosol development, with interbedded conglomerates dominated by clasts composed of reworked intrabasinal sediments and containing only minor extrabasinal silica. The regional climate during Chinle deposition was becoming increasingly arid, with fluctuating seasonal rainfall. Deposition by the braided and meandering rivers of the lower Kane Springs beds filled paleovalleys incised into the Cutler Group, and was followed by a poorly drained interval of poorly oxygenated swamps and lakes crisscrossed by small streams that produced the middle Kane Springs beds. These conditions transitioned back to the slowly aggrading braided and meandering rivers of the upper Kane Springs beds, probably by Rhaetian time. The Kane Springs paleoenvironment, probably at least partially syndepositional with that of the Owl Rock Member, was inhabited by conifers, freshwater ostracods, bivalves and gastropods, indeterminate phytosaurs, and the aetosaur Typothorax. The shift to the overlying Church Rock Member was gradational and probably involved only subtle shifts in the depositional system, largely related to better-drained sediments. Braided channels with seasonally variable discharge crossed well-drained, rapidly aggrading and well-oxygenated floodplains. Rare paleosols (including entisols, vertisols, and aridisols) indicate seasonal wetting and drying in a generally arid climate. Rivers and lakes were inhabited by the phytosaur taxon Machaeroprosopus (including the derived form “Redondasaurus”), rare metoposaurids, coelacanths, a diverse actinopterygian fish fauna, conchostracans, ostracods, bivalves, and gastropods. The flora included conifer trees, giant horsetails, Cynepteris (a fern), Zamites (a bennettitalean), the small shrub-like conifer Pelourdea, and the enigmatic Sanmiguelia. Terrestrial tetrapods included the aetosaur Typothorax (suggesting that the genus endured into the Rhaetian), paracrocodylomorphs, and small theropods. Eventually, wind-blown eolian deposits entered the region, and late in the Rhaetian, prior to 201.3 Ma, the eolian Wingate erg swamped small braided channels still inhabited by the phytosaur “Redondasaurus,” actinopterygian fishes, and small theropods.

Triassic Research at the 4th International Paleontology Congress - 2014

Wishing I could have joined my colleagues this week for the 4th International Paleontology Congress in Mendoza, Argentina.  There is a large amount of Triassic research being presented at this meeting.
Here is the link to the abstract volume.





Evidence of Trophic Interactions Among Apex Predators in the Late Triassic

Let's get back into the swing of things Chinle with this new paper that shows how badass phytosaurs were. I'd love to see someone recreate this fight scene for a film.

Drumheller, S. K., Stocker, M. R., and S. J. Nesbitt. 2014. Direct evidence of trophic interactions among apex predators in the Late Triassic of western North America. Naturwissenschaften (advance online publication) DOI: 10.1007/s00114-014-1238-3

 Abstract - Hypotheses of feeding behaviors and community structure are testable with rare direct evidence of trophic interactions in the fossil record (e.g., bite marks). We present evidence of four predation, scavenging, and/or interspecific fighting events involving two large paracrocodylomorphs (='rauisuchians') from the Upper Triassic Chinle Formation (~220–210 Ma). The larger femur preserves a rare history of interactions with multiple actors prior to and after death of this ~8–9-m individual. A large embedded tooth crown and punctures, all of which display reaction tissue formed through healing, record evidence of a failed attack on this individual. The second paracrocodylomorph femur exhibits four unhealed bite marks, indicating the animal either did not survive the attack or was scavenged soon after death. The combination of character states observed (e.g., morphology of the embedded tooth, ‘D’-shaped punctures, evidence of bicarination of the marking teeth, spacing of potentially serial marks) indicates that large phytosaurs were actors in both cases. Our analysis of these specimens demonstrates phytosaurs targeted large paracrocodylomorphs in these Late Triassic ecosystems. Previous distinctions between 'aquatic' and 'terrestrial' Late Triassic trophic structures were overly simplistic and built upon mistaken paleoecological assumptions; we show they were intimately connected at the highest trophic levels. Our data also support that size cannot be the sole factor in determining trophic status. Furthermore, these marks provide an opportunity to start exploring the seemingly unbalanced terrestrial ecosystems from the Late Triassic of North America, in which large carnivores far outnumber herbivores in terms of both abundance and diversity.