Field of Science

Overview of the Triassic Pterosaur Record

Another paper from the upcoming volume on Triassic archosaurs.

Dalla Vecchia, F. 2013. Triassic Pterosaurs. From Nesbitt, S. J., Desojo, J. B. & Irmis, R. B. (eds) 2013. Anatomy, Phylogeny and Palaeobiology of Early Archosaurs and their Kin. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 379,

Abstract - Pterosaurs are a clade of highly specialized, volant archosauromorphs recorded from the Upper Triassic to the uppermost Cretaceous. Problematic remains referred to the Pterosauria are reported from the Triassic of Europe and both North and South America, but unequivocal pterosaur specimens are only known from the Alps (Italy, Austria and Switzerland: Preondactylus buffarinii, Austriadactylus cristatus, Peteinosaurus zambellii, Eudimorphodon ranzii, Carniadactylus rosenfeldi, Caviramus schesaplanensis and Raeticodactylus filisurensis) and Greenland (‘Eudimorphodon’ cromptonellus). Pterosaurs are diagnosed mostly by features associated with the advent of powered flight. They are generally considered to be archosaurians more closely related to dinosaurs than to crocodilians, but non-archosaurian positions have also been proposed. There is a lack of general agreement about ingroup relationships, particularly among the basal pterosaurs. Triassic pterosaurs differ from other non-pterodactyloid pterosaurs in features of the dentition and caudal vertebral column. A ‘Big Bang’ model for their early history fits better with the fossil record: the earliest unequivocal pterosaurs show a sudden and geographically limited appearance in the fossil record, as well as a relatively high burst of diversity and considerable morphologic disparity. Absence of pterosaur remains from deposits where they are expected to be found suggests that they had not yet evolved in pre-Norian times.

Six New Papers from the Forthcoming Volume 'Anatomy, Phylogeny, and Palaeobiology of Early Archosaurs and their Kin.

You can access the abstracts electronically here.

Mastrantonio, B. M., Schultz, C. L., Desojo, J. B., and J.  Bittencourt Garcia. 2013. The braincase of Prestosuchus chiniquensis (Archosauria: Suchia)From: Nesbitt, S. J., Desojo, J. B. & Irmis, R. B. (eds) 2013. Anatomy, Phylogeny and Palaeobiology of Early Archosaurs and their Kin. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 379, doi:10.1144/SP379.10

Abstract - The osteology of an almost complete braincase of the rauisuchian archosaurs Prestosuchus chiniquensis from the Middle Triassic of Brazil is described for first time, based on two specimens (UFRGS-PV-0629-T and UFRGS-PV-0156-T). A comparative description with other taxa of rauisuchians is presented that forms the basis of a phylogenetic analysis. To perform the phylogenetic analysis, we describe and discuss each character codification for a modified version of the recent matrices of Gower (2002), Gower & Nesbitt (2006) and Brusatte et al.(2010). The analysis resulted in two most parsimonious trees that differ from the topologies recovered by Gower (2002) in a few aspects within Rauisuchia, and Prestosuchus chiniquensis was unequivocally depicted as deeply nested within Pseudosuchia, as the sister taxon of Batrachotomus kuperferzellensis in both topologies, supported by a single synapomorphy: the reduced to small fissure of the post-temporal fenestra between parietal, supraoccipital and exoccipital-opisthotic.

Sues, H.-D., Desojo, J. B., and M. D. Ezcurra. 2013. Doswelliidae: a clade of unusual armoured archosauriforms from the Middle and Late Triassic. From: Nesbitt, S. J., Desojo, J. B. & Irmis, R. B. (eds) 2013. Anatomy, Phylogeny and Palaeobiology of Early Archosaurs and their Kin. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 379, first published on April 23, 2013, doi:10.1144/SP379.13

Abstract - Doswelliidae is a clade of armoured non-archosaurian archosauriform reptiles more closely related to Archosauria than are Proterosuchidae, Erythrosuchidae and possibly Euparkeria capensis. It is currently known from the late Middle Triassic (Ladinian) of Germany, the late Middle to early Late Triassic (Ladinian–Carnian) of Argentina and Brazil, and the Late Triassic (Carnian–Norian) of the USA. To date, two unambiguous synapomorphies diagnose Doswelliidae: (i) osteoderm ornamentation coarse, incised, and composed of central regular pits of subequal size and shape, and (ii) osteoderms with anterior articular lamina. Five taxa are currently recognized: Archeopelta arborensis, Doswellia kaltenbachi, Doswellia sixmilensis, Tarjadia ruthae and a new taxon from Germany. Based on skeletal features and occurrence, doswelliid archosauriforms may have had a semi-aquatic mode of life.

Langer, M. C., and J. Ferigolo. 2013. The Late Triassic dinosauromorph Sacisaurus agudoensis (Caturrita Formation; Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil): anatomy and affinities. From: Nesbitt, S. J., Desojo, J. B. & Irmis, R. B. (eds) 2013. Anatomy, Phylogeny and Palaeobiology of Early Archosaurs and their Kin.  Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 379, first published on April 23, 2013, doi:10.1144/SP379.16

Abstract - Silesauridae is an exclusively Triassic group of dinosauromorphs, knowledge on the diversity of which has increased dramatically in the last few years. Silesaurid relationships are still contentious, as a result in part of different homology statements, particularly regarding the typical edentulous mandible tip of these animals. One of the most complete silesaurids yet discovered is Sacisaurus agudoensis from the Caturrita Formation (Late Triassic: Norian) of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, represented by numerous isolated bones recovered from a single site. The anatomy of S. agudoensis is fully described for the first time here, and comparisons are provided to other basal dinosauromorphs. S. agudoensis is a small-bodied animal (less than 1 m in length) that possesses a dentition consisting of leaf-shaped crowns with large denticles in the carinae, a plesiomorphic propubic pelvis with an almost fully closed acetabulum, elongate distal hindlimbs suggesting well-developed cursorial ability, and a laterally projected outer malleolus in the tibia. All previous numerical phylogenies supported a non-dinosaur dinosauromorph affinity for Silesauridae, but the reanalysis of one of those studies suggests that a position within Dinosauria is not unlikely, with silesaurids forming the basal branch of the ornithischian lineage.

Turner, A. H., and S. J. Nesbitt. 2013. Body size evolution during the Triassic archosauriform radiation. From: Nesbitt, S. J., Desojo, J. B. & Irmis, R. B. (eds) 2013. Anatomy, Phylogeny and Palaeobiology of Early Archosaurs and their Kin.  Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 379, first published on April 23, 2013, doi:10.1144/SP379.15

Abstract - The first large (>1 m) diapsids appeared near the Permian–Triassic extinction and a subset of diapsids, the archosauriforms, expanded their body size range soon after in the Early–Middle Triassic. Here, we examine body size at key evolutionary events within Archosauriformes during the Triassic and through the end-Triassic extinction. Using femoral length as a body size proxy and a temporally calibrated phylogeny of Archosauriformes, we estimate ancestral body sizes using a maximum likelihood approach and test for the presence of an adapative radiation by comparing the fit of competing evolutionary models. Archosauriform body size is characterized by punctuated change with more change occurring early in the Triassic. Archosaurs crossing the Triassic–Jurassic boundary show a wide range in ancestral size, and dinosaurs (sauropodomorphs and theropods) are considerably larger in the Jurassic. Crocodylomorph origins are characterized by a drop in body size; however, both the relative amount of change and the rate of change are matched among other archosaur clades. Archosauriforms increase in absolute body size through the Triassic and evidence suggests that a directional trend in size increase occurred in the early Mesozoic. The morphological signature of adaptive radiation is rare in comparative data from extant animals but is present at the origination of Archosauriformes.

Niedźwiedzki, G., Brusatte, S. L., and R. J. Butler. 2013. Prorotodactylus and Rotodactylus tracks: an ichnological record of dinosauromorphs from the Early–Middle Triassic of Poland. From: Nesbitt, S. J., Desojo, J. B. & Irmis, R. B. (eds) 2013. Anatomy, Phylogeny and Palaeobiology of Early Archosaurs and their Kin. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 379, first published on April 23, 2013, doi:10.1144/SP379.12

Abstract - We present the first comprehensive description of Prorotodactylus and Rotodactylus  dinosauromorph tracks from the Early and Middle Triassic of the Holy Cross Mountains, Poland. We describe and comprehensively figure tracks that have been mentioned briefly in previous accounts as well as new, recently discovered material, and analyse the variation and stratigraphic distribution of these specimens. Tracks have been recorded from four sites – Koszary, Stryczowice, Wióry and Baranów – which span the early Olenekian – early Anisian (c.250–246 Ma). These tracks therefore represent an ichnological record of the evolutionary succession of early dinosauromorphs during the earliest part of their evolutionary history. Recognized track types include cf. Prorotodactylus isp., Prorotodactylus isp., Prorotodactylus mirus, Rotodactylus cursorius, Rotodactylus isp. and cf. Rotodactylus isp. At least three distinct Early and early Middle Triassic early dinosauromorph ichnofaunas can be recognized. The oldest, which is early Olenekian in age, is characterized by the presence of Prorotodactylus isp., cf.Prorotodactylus isp. and non-archosaurian archosauromorph or archosaur tracks (e.g. Synaptichnium isp., Protochirotherium isp.), recorded at the Stryczowice and Koszary sites. The following assemblage, recorded at the late Olenekian Wióry site, displays the highest ichnodiversity of dinosauromorphs, with four track types present (Prorotodactylus isp., Prorotodactylus mirus, Rotodactylus cursorius and cf. Rotodactylus isp.). The youngest site, Baranów, includes Rotodactylus isp., as well as other larger dinosauromorph tracks. The first body fossil evidence of dinosauromorphs is a few million years younger than the youngest Polish tracks, so Prorotodactylus and Rotodactylus tracks currently provide the oldest record of dinosauromorph morphology, biology and evolution.

Ezcurra, M. D., Butler, R. J., and D. J. Gower. 2013. ‘Proterosuchia’: the origin and early history of Archosauriformes.. From: Nesbitt, S. J., Desojo, J. B. & Irmis, R. B. (eds) 2013. Anatomy, Phylogeny and Palaeobiology of Early Archosaurs and their Kin. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 379, first published on April 23, 2013, doi:10.1144/SP379.11

Abstract - The earliest history of Archosauriformes is mainly represented by members of Proterosuchidae and Erythrosuchidae, which are known worldwide from latest Permian to Middle Triassic beds. These two groups were historically combined within ‘Proterosuchia’, with approximately 30 nominal species. Two morphotypes have been recognized among proterosuchians: proterosuchids with a generally more sprawling gait and elongated and low skulls with an overhanging premaxilla, and the more heavily built erythrosuchids, with a probably less sprawling gait and large, presumably hypercarnivorous, skulls. The systematics of ‘Proterosuchia’ was relatively chaotic throughout most of the twentieth century, but currently there exists consensus regarding the non-monophyly of proterosuchians and their phylogenetic position outside all other archosauriforms. In contrast, the delimitation and taxonomic content of Proterosuchidae and Erythrosuchidae remain unstable. Few studies of proterosuchian palaeobiology have been carried out. Current lines of evidence favour a predominantly terrestrial lifestyle for proterosuchians. Limb bone histology indicates rapid continuous growth rates in Proterosuchus and Erythrosuchus before reaching sexual maturity. A better knowledge of proterosuchian anatomy, systematics, evolution and ecology is important for advancing understanding of the origin and early radiation of Archosauriformes and the patterns of biotic recovery following the Permo-Triassic mass extinction event. There remains much research to be carried out in proterosuchian palaeobiology.
A new interpretation of material of an armored archosauriform from the Middle Triassic of Germany that solves the mystery of the purported Middle Triassic aetosaur.  Instead this specimen is from a taxon more closely to Doswellia kaltenbachi. This new taxon supports the growing realization that doswelliids had a broader range geographically and temporally.

Schoch, R. R., and H.-D. Sues. 2013. A new archosauriform reptile from the Middle Triassic (Ladinian) of Germany. Journal of Systematic Palaeontology (advance online publication) DOI:10.1080/14772019.2013.781066

Abstract- Numerous well-preserved skeletal remains of a distinctive armoured archosauriform reptile from the Lower Keuper (Erfurt Formation; Middle Triassic: Ladinian: Longobardian) of Baden-Württemberg (Germany) represent a new taxon, Jaxtasuchus salomoni gen. et sp. nov. The dermal armour of Jaxtasuchus comprises transverse rows of four rectangular osteoderms each in the cervical, dorsal and caudal regions, with the individual plates closely resembling those of Doswellia kaltenbachi from Carnian strata in North America. The long and low maxilla of Jaxtasuchus held at least 15 teeth. The labial and lingual surfaces of the tall, only slightly recurved crowns of the maxillary teeth bear distinct vertical ridges and smooth mesial and distal carinae. The cervical region of the vertebral column is long. Phylogenetic analysis places Jaxtasuchus as the sister taxon to
Doswellia in Doswelliidae sensu Desojo et al. (2011). Doswelliidae is diagnosed by the coarsely reticulate, incised ornamentation of osteoderms composed of central regular pits of subequal size and contour, and a mostly smooth anterior articular lamina on each osteoderm. The discovery of Jaxtasuchus confirms that Doswelliidae had a wide palaeogeographical distribution during the latter half of the Triassic.

Morphology and Diversity of the Mandibular Symphysis of Archosauriforms

Excellent study that demonstrates changes in mandibular symphyses through individual clades;  changes that appear to be influenced by changes in dental morphology, which presumably reflect differences in diet. This paper is part of the upcoming volume on early archosaurs.
Holliday, C. M., and S. J. Nesbitt. 2013. Morphology and diversity of the mandibular symphysis of archosauriforms In Nesbitt, S. J., Desojo, J. B. and R. B. Irmis (eds) Anatomy, Phylogeny and Palaeobiology of Early Archosaurs and their Kin. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 379,
Abstract: Archosauromorphs radiated into numerous trophic niches during the Mesozoic, many of which were accommodated by particular suites of cranial adaptations and feeding behaviours. The mandibular symphysis, the joint linking the mandibles, is a poorly understood craniomandibular joint that may offer significant insight into skull function and feeding ecology. Using comparative data from extant amniotes, we investigated the skeletal anatomy and osteological correlates of relevant soft tissues in a survey of archosauromorph mandibular symphyses. Characters were identified and their evolution mapped using a current phylogeny of archosauriforms with the addition of non-archosauriform archosauromorphs. Extinct taxa with the simple Class I condition (e.g. proterochampsids, ‘rauisuchians’), rugose Class II (aetosaurs, protosuchians, silesaurids) and interdigitating Class III symphyses (e.g. phytosaurs, crocodyliforms) and finally fused Class IV (avians) build the joints in expected ways, although they differ in the contributions of bony elements and Meckel’s cartilage. Optimization of the different classes of symphyses across archosauromorph clades indicates that major iterative transitions from plesiomorphic Class I to derived, rigid Class II–IV symphyses occurred along the lines to phytosaurs, aetosaurs, a subset of poposauroids, crocodyliformes, pterosaurs and birds. These transitions in symphyseal morphology also appear to track changes in dentition and potentially diet.

New Occurrences of the Controversial Late Triassic Plant Fossil Sanmiguelia

New paper extending the biostratigraphic range of the enigmatic Late Triassic plant Sanmiguelia. These new finds also alter the plant-based biostratigraphic scheme proposed by Ash in 1980.
Ash, S.R. and S. T. Hasiotis, S.T. 2013. New occurrences of the controversial Late Triassic plant fossil Sanmiguelia Brown and associated ichnofossils in the Chinle Formation of Arizona and Utah, USA. Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie Abhandlungen 268: 65–82.
Abstract: Fragments of the rare and distinctive palm-like leaves of the controversial Late Triassic plant Sanmiguelia have been discovered recently in both Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona and Arches National Park, Utah. Although, the new specimens do not clarify the classification of this intriguing fossil, they do confirm that it occurs in all members of the Chinle Formation except for the very lowest units, the Shinarump, Mesa Redondo, and Temple Mountain members. Furthermore, their discovery in Petrified Forest National Park extends the known geographical distribution of the fossil into east-central Arizona and demonstrates that it is a characteristic member of the Late Triassic flora of the American southwest and requires a revision of the Chinle floral zone scheme proposed and revised earlier by Ash (1980). In Petrified Forest National Park the leaves are associated with several types of ichnofossils including Scoyenia, Arenicolites, Cylindrichum, cf. Scolicia, cf. Beaconites, Selenchnites, and other trace fossils in open nomenclature. These trace fossils suggest that Sanmiguelia was preserved in high moisture, imperfectly drained, water-margin setting inhabited by phytosaurs, snails, horseshoe crabs, and a variety of arthropods such as beetles and dipteran larvae and record high water table conditions punctuated by flooding and overbank deposition. The findings reported here generally support and improve on previous interpretations of the paleoenvironment inhabited by the Sanmiguelia plant.

Triassic–Jurassic Mass Extinction as Trigger for the Mesozoic Radiation of Crocodylomorphs

A new study that contrasts that of Brusatte et al. (2008), who had found a significant dropoff in pseudosuchian disparity through the end Triassic extinction.

Toljagić, O., and R. J. Butler. 2013 Triassic–Jurassic mass extinction as trigger for the Mesozoic radiation of crocodylomorphs. Biology Letters 9: 20130095.

Abstract - Pseudosuchia, one of the two main clades of Archosauria (Reptilia: Diapsida), suffered a major decline in lineage diversity during the Triassic–Jurassic (TJ) mass extinction (approx. 201 Ma). Crocodylomorpha, including living crocodilians and their extinct relatives, is the only group of pseudosuchians that survived into the Jurassic.We reassess changes in pseudosuchian morphological diversity (disparity) across this time interval, using considerably larger sample sizes than in previous analyses. Our results show that metrics of pseudosuchian disparity did not change significantly across the TJ boundary, contrasting with previous work suggesting low pseudosuchian disparity in the Early Jurassic following the TJ mass extinction. However, a significant shift in morphospace occupation between Late Triassic and Early Jurassic taxa is recognized, suggesting that the TJ extinction of many pseudosuchian lineages was followed by a major and geologically rapid adaptive radiation of crocodylomorphs. This marks the onset of the spectacularly successful evolutionary history of crocodylomorphs in Jurassic and Cretaceous ecosystems.