Field of Science

New Osteological and Phylogenetic Review of the Triassic Loricatan Prestosuchus chiniquensis from Brazil

Roberto-Da-Silva, L., Müller , R. T., Gallo de França, M. A., Cabreira, S. F., and Dias-Da-Silva, S. 2018. An impressive skeleton of the giant top predator Prestosuchus chiniquensis (Pseudosuchia: Loricata) from the Triassic of Southern Brazil, with phylogenetic remarks. Historical Biology (Early Online).

Abstract - In the present contribution, we aim to present the osteology of ‘ULBRA-PVT-281’, which comprises the best-preserved skeleton of Prestosuchus chiniquensis ever found. ULBRA-PVT-281 combines the morphology of two classic specimens referred to P. chiniquensis, UFRGS-PV-0156-T and UFRGSPV- 0152-T, reunited in a single operational taxonomic unit (OTU) in previous phylogenetic studies. Therefore, the new specimen reinforces the combination of both specimens. We performed a phylogenetic analysis, combining the information of these three specimens plus braincase data from a fourth specimen, UFRGS-PV-0629-T, into a new P. chiniquensis terminal taxon. Moreover, our analysis also included some new taxa potentially related to P. chiniquensis. As a result, we found a topology slightly distinct from previous studies, where Ticinosuchus ferox is the basalmost member of Loricata, which also includes the new combined P. chiniquensis. Our results place P. chiniquensis, Luperosuchus fractus, and Saurosuchus galilei distributed in a pectinate paraphyletic pattern towards Crocodylomorpha. On the other hand, a constrained analysis forcing the monophyly of these taxa demands just a single extra step. Therefore, both scenarios are plausible and agree with the placement of P. chiniquensis within Loricata, whereas T. ferox nests in Loricata only in the unconstrained analysis.

Ichnofossil Assemblages and Paleosols of the Upper Triassic Chinle Formation, South-Eastern Utah

Adding to our understanding of the understudied Chinle Formation fossils of Utah.

Fischer, S. J. and S. T. Hasiotis 2018. Ichnofossil assemblages and palaeosols of the Upper Triassic Chinle Formation, south-eastern Utah (USA): Implications for depositional controls and palaeoclimate. 
Annales Societatis Geologorum Poloniae 88(2): 127–162.

Abstract - The Upper Triassic Chinle Formation in the Stevens Canyon area in south-eastern Utah represents fluvial, palustrine, and lacustrine strata deposited in a continental back-arc basin on the western edge of Pangea. Previous investigations interpreted a megamonsoonal climate with increasing aridity for the Colorado Plateau towards the end of the Triassic. In this study, we systematically integrate ichnological and pedological features of the Chinle Formation into ichnopedofacies to interpret palaeoenvironmental and palaeoclimatic variations in the north-eastern part of the Chinle Basin. Seventeen ichnofossil morphotypes and six palaeosol orders are combined into twelve ichnopedofacies, whose development was controlled by autocyclic and allocyclic processes and hydrology. Ichnopedofacies are used to estimate palaeoprecipitation in conjunction with appropriate modern analogue latitudinal and geographic settings. In the north-east Chinle Basin, annual precipitation was ~1100–1300 mm in the Petrified Forest Member. Precipitation levels were >1300 mm/yr at the base of the lower Owl Rock Member, decreased to ~700–1100 mm/yr, and then to ~400–700 mm/yr. Two drying upward cycles from ~1100 mm/yr to ~700 mm/yr occurred in the middle and upper part of the Owl Rock Member. In the overlying Church Rock Member, precipitation decreased from ~400 mm/yr at the base of the unit to ~25–325 mm/yr at the end of Chinle Formation deposition. Ichnopedofacies indicate monsoonal conditions persisted until the end of the Triassic with decreasing precipitation that resulted from the northward migration of Pangea. Ichnopedofacies in the northeast Chinle Basin indicate both long-term drying of climate and short-term, wet-dry fluctuations.

Expanding the Late Triassic Record of the Dinosaur Precursor Dromomeron romeri: A New Record from the Chinle Formation of Arizona.

A new open access paper from my co-worker, friend, and colleague Adam Marsh documenting a new record of the dinosaur precursor Dromomeron romeri from the Chinle Formation Arizona. This further demonstrates the importance of museum collections and apomorphy based identification work to identify stratigraphic, chronologic, and bibliographical extensions, improving our understanding of early dinosaur distributions.  

Marsh, A. D. 2018. A new record of Dromomeron romeri Irmis et al., 2007 (Lagerpetidae) from the Chinle Formation of Arizona, U.S.A. PaleoBios, 35. Retrieved from

Abstract -
The relatively recent discovery and contextualization of silesaurid and lagerpetid dinosauromorphs has led to a revolution in understanding the early evolutionary history of the dinosaurian lineage. Lagerpetids are known from North America and South America in Middle and Upper Triassic rocks, especially the Chinle Formation of New Mexico and the Dockum Group of Texas. Until now, only a single specimen of Dromomeron gregorii was known from the Upper Triassic Chinle Formation of Arizona. However, a new lagerpetid astragalus specimen (MNA V7237) from the Owl Rock Member of the Chinle Formation found on Ward Terrace in the Navajo Nation of Arizona is referred to Dromomeron romeri. MNA V7237 represents the youngest radioisotopically-dated record of Lagerpetidae, indicating that D. romeri persisted throughout the entire Norian (Otischalkian into the Apachean) in North America.

Fuyuanichthys wangi A New Ginklymodian Fish from the Middle Triassic of China

Xu, G., Ma, X., and Y. Ren. 2018. Fuyuanichthys wangi gen. et sp. nov. from the Middle Triassic (Ladinian) of China highlights the early diversification of ginglymodian fishes. PeerJ 6:e6054

Abstract - A series of well-preserved fossil assemblages from the Middle Triassic marine rock succession in Southwest China provide unique evidences for studying the early evolution of holostean fishes, including Halecomorphi (e.g., bownfin) and Ginglymodi (e.g., gars). Ginglymodi have the earliest record in the early Middle Triassic (Anisian, ∼244 Ma) of China, represented by Kyphosichthys and Sangiorgioichthys sui from Yunnan and S. yangjuanensis from Guizhou. Here, we report the discovery of a new ginglymodian, Fuyuanichthys wangi gen. et sp. nov., based on 22 well-preserved specimens from the lower part of the Zhuganpo member of the Falang Formation in eastern Yunnan and western Guizhou, which documents the first discovery of convincing ginglymodians from the late Middle Triassic (Ladinian, ∼240 Ma) Xingyi biota in China. Fuyuanichthys possesses a unique combination of features that easily distinguishes it from other ginglymodians, such as presence of a median gular and short and edentulous maxillae, and absence of a supramaxilla and supraorbitals. As one of the smallest known ginglymodians with a maximum standard length of ∼75 mm, the new finding further supports that the Middle Triassic Ginglymodi have a relatively small range of body sizes compared with the Halecomorphi from the same ecosystems in China. Results of a phylogenetic analysis recover Fuyuanichthys as a sister taxon to Kyphosichthys at the ginglymodian stem, and provide new insights into the early evolution of this clade.

New Specimen of Prolacerta broomi from the Early Triassic of Antarctica

Spiekman, S. N. F. 2018. A new specimen of Prolacerta broomi from the lower Fremouw Formation (Early Triassic) of Antarctica, its biogeographical implications and a taxonomic revision. Scientific Reports 8, Article number: 17996.

Abstract - Prolacerta broomi is an Early Triassic archosauromorph of particular importance to the early evolution of archosaurs. It is well known from many specimens from South Africa and a few relatively small specimens from Antarctica. Here, a new articulated specimen from the Fremouw Formation of Antarctica is described in detail. It represents the largest specimen of Prolacerta described to date with a nearly fully articulated and complete postcranium in addition to four skull elements. The study of this specimen and the re-evaluation of other Prolacerta specimens from both Antarctica and South Africa reveal several important new insights into its morphology, most notably regarding the premaxilla, manus, and pelvic girdle. Although well-preserved skull material from Antarctica is still lacking for Prolacerta, a detailed comparison of Prolacerta specimens from Antarctica and South Africa corroborates previous findings that there are no characters clearly distinguishing the specimens from these different regions and therefore the Antarctic material is assigned to Prolacerta broomi. The biogeographical implications of these new findings are discussed. Finally, some osteological characters for Prolacerta are revised and an updated diagnosis and phylogenetic analysis are provided.

UWBM 95529 

Further Investigating the Biogeographic Origins of Dinosauria

New paper out in Palaeontology.

Marsola, J. C., Ferreira, G. S., Langer, M. C., Button, D. J., and R. J. Butler. 2018. Increases in sampling support the southern Gondwanan hypothesis for the origins of dinosaurs. Palaeontology. Early Online.

Abstract - Dinosaurs were ubiquitous in terrestrial ecosystems through most of the Mesozoic and are still diversely represented in the modern fauna in the form of birds. Recent efforts to better understand the origins of the group have resulted in the discovery of many new species of early dinosaur and their closest relatives (dinosauromorphs). In addition, recent re‐examinations of early dinosaur phylogeny have highlighted uncertainties regarding the interrelationships of the main dinosaur lineages (Sauropodomorpha, Theropoda and Ornithischia), and questioned the traditional hypothesis that the group originated in South Gondwana and gradually dispersed over Pangaea. Here, we use an historical approach to examine the impact of new fossil discoveries and changing phylogenetic hypotheses on biogeographical scenarios for dinosaur origins over 20 years of research time, and analyse the results in the light of different fossil record sampling regimes. Our results consistently optimize South Gondwana as the ancestral area for Dinosauria, as well as for more inclusive clades including Dinosauromorpha, and show that this hypothesis is robust to increased taxonomic and geographic sampling and divergent phylogenetic results. Our results do not find any support for the recently proposed Laurasian origin of dinosaurs and suggest that a southern Gondwanan origin is by far the most plausible given our current knowledge of the diversity of early dinosaurs and non‐dinosaurian dinosauromorphs.

An interesting new study out today that uses phylogeny based biogeographical analyses to test the hypothesis of Baron et al. (2017a,b) that stem-dinosaurs originated in Laurasia. Their results reject that hypothesis in favor of the long standing hypothesis of a Gondwanan origin. I couldn't access the supplemental data in Dryad because the article isn't officially out. I'm not suggesting that the conclusions are wrong, but do have a few questions/comments about the data and how specimen sampling issues from Western North America could affect a rerun of the analysis. 

1) Some of the separation of taxa into biogeographical bins is confusing. For example most of the Chinle Formation taxa Chindesaurus, Tawa,  and Eucoelophysis are shown in green depicting the 'Equatorial Belt' as the ancestral zone, yet taxa from the same formation and localities therein such as Dromomeron gregorii and D. romeri are shown in yellow from the 'Euroamerica' zone. Why are they separated?

2) I am not aware of any Rhaetian occurrences of Eucoelophysis baldwini. This taxon occurs in a couple of quarries from around Ghost Ranch, New Mexico and one of them, the Hayden Quarry, is solidly dated in the middle-late Norian at about 212 Ma (Irmis et al., 2011). There is a purported occurrence (Rinehart et al., 2009) of Eucoelophysis from the Coelophysis Quarry at Ghost Ranch that is most likely Rhaetian in age; however, this occurrence is based on the rejected hypothesis that Eucoelophysis remains a neotheropod dinosaur with the holotype representing a highly weathered individual (Rinehart et al., 2009). This referred specimen is simply another specimen of Coelophysis. Thus all presently known occurrences of Eucoelophysis are Norian in age.

3) Recent fieldwork in the Chinle Formation, especially at Petrified Forest National Park, has recovered a significant amount of early dinosaur material. This includes the earliest known dated neotheropod specimen and early occurrences of dinosauriforms. This material is presently under study. Combined with already published accounts of silesaurids and coelophysids (e.g., Padian, 1986; Parker et al., 2006), these show a robust record of dinosauromorphs in the early-middle Norian of Arizona. Thus a specimen based study using autapomorphy-based identifications would pull Equatorial Laurasian silesaurids and neotheropods down into the early-middle Norian. Also important is a recently mentioned occurrence of Dromomeron gregorii from the Otischalkian Boren Quarry in the Dockum Group of Texas which is older than any of the Chinle Formation occurrences and pulls these occurrences down even further (Lessner et al., 2018).

4) Many of the specimens mentioned above are of interest because they originate from some of the lowest fossil bearing beds in the Chinle Formation, the Blue Mesa Member. To date no diagnostic vertebrate fossils from the Chinle Formation are known from below the middle of the Blue Mesa Member, thus the vertebrate faunas of the lower Chinle (lower Blue Mesa, Mesa Redondo, Shinarump) are unknown. This is significant because these units represent the earliest Norian based on the 'long-Norian' hypothesis (227-208 Ma). Coupled with the Moenkopi/Chinle unconformity much of the well-sampled Triassic of the western U.S. is apparently lacking the Carnian and earliest Norian. This is a bias that should not be ignored. Possible Carnian rocks elsewhere such as the base of the Dockum Group in Texas and units in Wyoming need to be better sampled.  

It's difficult to say how these details would affect these early dinosaur biogeographical studies, but there are data out there that should be included in future analyses.


Baron, M. G., Norman, D. B. and Barrett, P. M. 2017a. A new hypothesis of dinosaur relationships and early dinosaur evolution. Nature, 543, 501–506.

Baron, M. G., Norman, D. B. and Barrett, P. M. 2017b. Baron et al. reply. Nature, 551, E4–E5.

Irmis, R. B., Mundil, R., Martz, J. W., and W. G. Parker. 2011. High resolution U-Pb ages from the Upper Triassic Chinle Formation (New Mexico, U.S.A.) support a diachronous rise of dinosaurs. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 309:258-267.

Lessner, E. J., Parker, W. G., Marsh, A. D., Nesbitt, S. J., Irmis, R. B. and B. Mueller. 2018. New insights into Late Triassic dinosauromorph-bearing assemblages from Texas using apomorphy-based identifications. PaleoBios, 35.ucmp_paleobios_39960.

Padian, K.. 1986. On the type material of Coelophysis Cope (Saurischia: Theropoda), and a new specimen from the Petrified Forest of Arizona (Late Triassic: Chinle Formation), p. 45-60. In K. Padian (ed.), The beginning of the Age of Dinosaurs: Faunal change across the Triassic-Jurassic boundary. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Parker, W. G., Irmis, R. B., and S. J. Nesbitt. 2006. Review of the Late Triassic dinosaur record from Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona. Museum of Northern Arizona Bulletin 62:160-161.

Rinehart, L. F., Lucas, S. G., Heckert, A. B., Spielmann, J. A., and M. D. Celeskey. 2009. The paleobiology of Coelophysis bauri (Cope) from the Upper Triassic (Apachean) Whitaker Quarry, New Mexico, with detailed analysis of a single quarry block. New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin 45.

New Triassic Vertebrate Papers and the Cold Case of the Phytosaurs

After an almost three year hiatus I am looking to start posting again. Is anyone still out there? Did anyone miss me?

Here are a few new Triassic papers officially out today, all open access. A couple were out as early access, but the new phytosaur phylogeny paper is new today in PeerJ. This represents the bulk of the senior authors dissertation, is an exhaustive analysis of the phytosaurs, and a great exercise in database exploration for a group that has been particularly troublesome to deal with taxonomically and phylogenetically.

Phytosaurs are an incredible group of archosauriforms, common in Late Triassic rocks. Although problematic they serve as a great group for students to learn basic cranial and skeletal anatomy and we use them for this purpose at the Petrified Forest. Numerous and diverse they go extinct at the end of the Triassic and that is a mystery that colleagues such as Randall Irmis from the University of Utah are trying to solve. This research was featured last week on Science Friday.

Jones, A. S., and R. J. Butler. 2018. A new phylogenetic analysis of Phytosauria (Archosauria: Pseudosuchia) with the application of continuous and geometric morphometric character coding. PeerJ 6:e5901 DOI 10.7717/peerj.5901

 Marsola, J. C. A., Bittencourt, J. S., Da Rosa, Á. A. S., Martinelli, A. G., Ribeiro, A. M., Ferigolo, J., and M. C. Langer.  2018. New sauropodomorph and cynodont remains from the Late Triassic Sacisaurus site in southern Brazil and its stratigraphic position in the Norian Caturrita Formation. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 63 (4): 653–669.

Niedźwiedzki, G. and E. Budziszewska-Karwowska. 2018. A new occurrence of the Late Triassic archosaur Smok in southern Poland. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 68 (4): 703–712.

De Oliveira, T. M., Oliveira, D., Schultz, C. L., Kerber, L., and F. L. Pinheiro. 2018. Tanystropheid archosauromorphs in the Lower Triassic of Gondwana. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 63 (4): 713–723.