Field of Science

Chirotherium Trackways from the Middle Triassic of China

Xing, L., Klein, H., Lockley, M. G., Li, J., Zhang, J., Matsukawa, M., and J. Xiao. 2013. Chirotherium trackways from the Middle Triassic of Guizhou, China. Ichnos 20: 99-107. DOI:10.1080/10420940.2013.788505

Abstract -
Triassic tetrapod footprints from China are less well known than those from the Jurassic and Cretaceous. Archosaurian trackways of the ichnogenus Chirotherium were found in the Middle Triassic Guanling Formation in Zhenfeng County (Guizhou Province) at the southwestern edge of the Yangtze plate in the early 1960s but were not correctly identified and adequately described until 40 years later. Here we give a detailed re-description and review of the trackways, which are known from two localities near the villages of Niuchang and Longchang. They occur on the bedding surface of a mud-cracked argillaceous dolostone deposited in a near-shore, shallow-water environment. Their morphology and general trackway pattern indicate that they pertain to the ichnospecies Chirotherium barthii, well known from Middle Triassic
track surfaces of Europe, North and South America, and northern Africa. A peculiarity of the trackways from China are the low pace angulation and stride length, reflecting slow-moving trackmakers, which were basal crown-group archosaurs, possibly early
representatives of the dinosaur-bird line or, alternatively, stem-group crocodylians. These tracks constitute the only chirotheriid record known from Asia thus far and indicate a Pangea-wide distribution for this ichnotaxon. Biostratigraphically, assemblages with C. barthii are characteristic of the early Anisian, an age assignment already supported for the Guanling Formation based on conodont and bivalve biostratigraphy. In contrast, however, radiometric data from an interlayered ash bed indicate a Ladinian age.

High Environmental and Metabolic Plasticity as a Successful Evolutionary Strategy in a Long-lived Homeostatic Triassic Temnospondyl.

Sanchez S., and R. R. Schoch. 2013. Bone histology reveals a high environmental and metabolic plasticity as a successful evolutionary strategy in a long-lived homeostatic Triassic temnospondyl. Evolutionary Biology (early online) DOI: 10.1007/s11692-013-9238-3

Abstract - Evolutionary stasis (long-term stability of morphology in an evolving lineage) is a pattern for which explanations are usually elusive. The Triassic tetrapod Gerrothorax pulcherrimus, a gill-bearing temnospondyl, survived for 35 million years in the Germanic Basin of Central Europe persisting throughout the dinosaur-dominated Late Triassic Period. This evolutionary stasis coincides with the occurrence of this species in a wide range of habitats and environmental conditions. By the combination of palaeoecological and palaeohistological analyses, we found great ecological flexibility in G. pulcherrimus and present substantial evidence of developmental and
metabolic plasticity despite the morphological stasis. We conclude that G. pulcherrimus could show the capacity to settle in water bodies too harsh or unpredictable for most other tetrapods. This would have been made possible by a unique life history strategy that involved a wide reaction norm, permitting adjustment to fluctuating conditions such as salinity and level of nutrients. Growth rate, duration of juvenile period, age at maturity, and life span were all subject to broad variation within specimens of G. pulcherrimus in one single lake and in between different lakes. In addition to providing a better understanding of fossil ecosystems, this study shows the potential of such a methodology to encourage palaeobiologists and evolutionary biologists to consider the mechanisms of variation in extant and fossil organisms by using a similar time-scope reference.

A New Late Triassic Phytogeographical Scenario in Westernmost Gondwana.

Césari, S. N.,  and Colombi, C. E. 2013. A new Late Triassic phytogeographical scenario in westernmost Gondwana. Nature Communications 4, Article number: 1889 doi:10.1038/ncomms2917

 Abstract -
Floral provincialism within the Southern Hemisphere during the Late
Triassic (230 Ma) is characterized by the Ipswich and Onslow provinces, recognized originally in eastern Gondwana. However, new palynological assemblages from the Ischigualasto Formation, northwestern Argentina (231–225 Ma), change the phytogeographic interpretation for the Carnian–Norian in the westernmost Gondwana,
which was previously considered part of the southern floral Ipswich province. Here we show the presence of diagnostic Euramerican species within assemblages dominated by Gondwanan taxa that allows us to refer the palynofloras to the Onslow province. Our new data extend the Onslow floral belt, previously recognized from the western edge of Tethys to Timor, to the western margin of South America. This has implications for palaeophytogeography, palaeoclimate reconstructions and the palaeoecology of a Triassic ecosystem, which has yielded significant vertebrate remains and is regarded important in the early evolution of groups such as the Dinosauria.

New Stratigraphy, Geochronology, and Paleontology from the Late Triassic of Laos

Note that 225-221 Ma is now considered to be Norian...

Blanchard, S., Rossignol, C., Bourquin, S., Dabard, M.-P., Hallot, E., Nalpas, T., Poujol, M., Battail, B., Jalil, N.-E., Steyer, J.-S., Vacant, R., Véran, M., Bercovici, A., Diez, J. B., Paquette, J.-L., Khenthavong, B. and Vongphamany, S. 2013. Late Triassic volcanic activity in South-East Asia: new stratigraphical, geochronological and paleontological evidence from the Luang Prabang Basin (Laos). Journal of Asian Earth Sciences 70-71: 8–26.

Abstract - In South-East Asia, sedimentary basins displaying continental Permian and Triassic deposits have been poorly studied. Among these, the Luang Prabang Basin (North Laos) represents a potential key target to constrain the stratigraphic and structural evolutions of South-East Asia. A combined approach involving sedimentology, palaeontology, geochronology and structural analysis, was thus implemented to study the basin. It resulted in a new geological map, in defining new formations, and in proposing a complete revision of the Late Permian to Triassic stratigraphic succession as well as of the structural organization of the basin. Radiometric ages are used to discuss the synchronism of volcanic activity and sedimentation.

The Luang Prabang Basin consists of an asymmetric NE-SW syncline with NE-SW thrusts, located at the contact between Late Permian and Late Triassic deposits. The potential stratigraphic gap at the Permian–Triassic boundary is therefore masked by deformation in the basin. The Late Triassic volcaniclastic continental deposits are representative of alluvial plain and fluvial environments. The basin was fed by several sources, varying from volcanic, carbonated to silicic (non-volcanic). U–Pb dating of euhedral zircon grains provided maximum sedimentation ages. The stratigraphic vertical succession of these ages, from ca. 225, ca. 220 to ca. 216 Ma, indicates that a long lasting volcanism was active during sedimentation and illustrates significant variations in sediment preservation rates in continental environments (from ∼100 m/Ma to ∼3 m/Ma). Anhedral inherited zircon grains gave older ages. A large number of them, at ca. 1870 Ma, imply the reworking of a Proterozoic basement and/or of sediments containing fragments of such a basement. In addition, the Late Triassic (Carnian to Norian) sediments yielded to a new dicynodont skull, attributed to the Kannemeyeriiform group family, from layers dated in between ∼225 and ∼221 Ma (Carnian).

A New Non-mammaliaform Eucynodont from the Ischigualasto Formation of Argentina

Martínez, R. N., Fernandez, E., and O. A. Alcober. 2013. A new non-mammaliaform eucynodont from the Carnian-Norian Ischigualasto Formation, Northwestern Argentina. Revista Brasileira de Paleontologia 16: 61-76. doi:10.4072/rbp.2013.1.05
Abstract - The record of non-mammaliaformes eucynodonts from the Carnian-Norian Ischigualasto Formation is diverse and abundant, including a medium to large size herbivore and small carnivores. Here is described a new small eucynodont from the Ischigualasto Formation, on the basis of a partial skull. The new taxon is characterized by palatal process of the premaxilla extending posterior to the level of the first postcanine; deep and large maxillary laterodorsal fossa that opens at the level of the root of the upper canine; and postorbital bar diverging posterolaterally at very low angle (35.6°) from the anteroposterior axis of the skull. Results from a phylogenetic analysis supports the new genus placement as a probainognathian eucynodont, more derived than Probainognathus Romer, and more closely related to Ecteninion Martinez, May & Forster and Trucidocynodon Oliveira, Soares & Schultz than to any other eucynodont. Ecteniniidae is proposed as a new clade including the new genus, Ecteninion and Trucidocynodon, and in the phylogenetic hypothesis represents the sister-group of Prozostrodontia (Prozostrodon Bonaparte & Barberena, Tritylodontidae and Mammaliaformes). Additionally, the new taxon from the Ischigualasto Formation shows that the Scaphonyx-Exaeretodon-Herrerasaurus biozone has similar cynodont diversity than the supposedly contemporaneous Hyperodapedon Assemblage Zone of Santa Maria 2 Sequence, in Southern Brazil.


Osteoderm Microstructure of “Rauisuchian” Archosaurs from South America

Cerda, I. A., J. B. Desojo, T. M. Scheyer and C. L. Schultz. In Press. Osteoderm microstructure of “rauisuchian” archosaurs from South America. Geobios (accepted manuscript) doi:

Abstract - In this contribution we analyze and discuss the microanatomy and histology of postcranial osteoderms of a number of “rauisuchians” from different localities of South America (Argentina and Brazil). The studied sample includes osteoderms of Fasolasuchus tenax, Prestosuchus chiniquensis, Saurosuchus galilei and an undetermined rauisuchian from Brazil. The bone microanatomy of the osteoderms is variable: whereas some specimens have a rather compact structure, others show a diploe architecture with a central cancellous core bordered by two compact cortices. Both external and basal cortices are mainly composed of poorly vascularized, fine and coarse parallel fibred bone and networks of interwoven and mineralized fiber bundles. The internal region of the non-remodeled specimens consists of a well-vascularized core in which the intrinsic fibers exhibit important variations (even in the same specimen), ranging from coarse, parallel-fibred to woven-fibred bone tissues. Lines of arrested growth (LAGs) are well recorded in both basal and external cortices. Differences in the bone microstructure (compact vs. diploe) could be related to the age, sex and reproductive status of the sampled individuals. Hence, age estimation based on the count of LAGs in rauisuchian osteoderms appears to be reliable only in the early stages of ontogeny. The bone microstructure suggests that rauisuchian osteoderms were originated through a mechanism that involves both intramembranous and metaplastic ossifications.

Provincialization of Terrestrial Faunas Following the End-Permian Mass Extinction.

Sidor, C. A., D. A. Vilhena, K. D. Angielczyk, A. K. Huttenlocker, S. J. Nesbitt, B. R. Peecook, J. S. Steyer, R. M. H. Smith, and L. A. Tsuji. 2013. Provincialization of terrestrial faunas following the end-Permian mass extinction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (advance online publication)
doi: 10.1073/pnas.1302323110

Abstract -  In addition to their devastating effects on global biodiversity, mass extinctions have had a long-term influence on the history of life by eliminating dominant lineages that suppressed ecological change. Here, we test whether the end-Permian mass extinction (252.3 Ma) affected the distribution of tetrapod faunas within the southern hemisphere and apply quantitative methods to analyze four components of biogeographic structure: connectedness, clustering, range size, and endemism. For all four components, we detected increased provincialism between our Permian and Triassic datasets. In southern Pangea, a more homogeneous and broadly distributed fauna in the Late Permian (Wuchiapingian, ~257 Ma) was replaced by a provincial and biogeographically fragmented fauna by Middle Triassic times (Anisian, ~242 Ma). Importantly in the Triassic, lower latitude basins in Tanzania and Zambia included dinosaur predecessors and other archosaurs unknown elsewhere. The recognition of heterogeneous tetrapod communities in the Triassic implies that the end-Permian mass extinction afforded ecologically marginalized lineages the ecospace to diversify, and that biotic controls (i.e., evolutionary incumbency) were fundamentally reset. Archosaurs, which began diversifying in the Early Triassic, were likely beneficiaries of this ecological release and remained dominant for much of the later Mesozoic.