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The Early Triassic vertebrate record from low paleolatitudes is spotty, which led to the notion of an ‘equatorial vertebrate eclipse’ during the Smithian. Here we present articulated ray-finned fishes (Actinopterygii), collected from the marine Lower Triassic Thaynes Group at three new localities in Elko County (Nevada, USA), which were deposited within the equatorial zone. From the Smithian of the Winecup Ranch, we describe two partial skulls of the predatory actinopterygian Birgeria (Birgeriidae), attributed to B. americana new species and Birgeria sp. Birgeria americana n. sp. is distinguished from other species by a less reduced operculogular series. With an estimated total length of 1.72–1.85m, it is among the largest birgeriids. We confirm that Birgeria encompasses species with either two or three rows of teeth on the maxilla and dentary, and suggest that species with three well-developed rows are restricted to the Early Triassic. From the latest Smithian of Palomino Ridge, we present a three-dimensional, partial skull of the longirostrine predator Saurichthys (Saurichthyidae). This and other occurrences indicate that saurichthyids were common in the western USA basin. From the early late Spathian of Crittenden Springs, we describe a posterior body portion (Actinopterygii indet.). This find is important given the paucity of Spathian osteichthyan sites. We provide a summary of Early Triassic vertebrate occurrences in the United States, concluding that vertebrate fossils remain largely unstudied. The presence of predatory vertebrates in subequatorial latitudes during the Smithian confirms that Early Triassic trophic chains were not shortened and contradicts the ‘equatorial vertebrate eclipse’.
Placodontia were a group of marine reptiles that lived in shallow nearshore environments during the Triassic. Based on tooth morphology it has been inferred that they were durophagous, but tooth morphology differs among species: placodontoid placodonts have teeth described as hemispherical, and the teeth of more highly nested taxa within the cyamodontoid placodonts have been described as flat. In contrast, the sister taxon to the placodonts, Palatodonta bleekeri, like many other marine reptiles, has tall pointed teeth for eating soft-bodied prey. The goals of this paper are to quantify these different tooth morphologies and compare tooth shape among taxa and with a functionally “optimal” tooth. To quantify tooth morphology we measured the radius of curvature (RoC) of the occlusal surface by fitting spheres to 3D surface scans or computed microtomographic scans. Large RoCs correspond to flatter teeth, while teeth with smaller RoCs are pointier; positive RoCs have convex occlusal surfaces, and a negative RoC indicates that the occlusal surface of the tooth is concave. We found the placodontoid taxa have teeth with smaller RoCs than more highly nested taxa, and palatine teeth tend to be flatter and closer to the optimal morphology than maxillary teeth. Within one well-nested clade, the placochelyids, the rearmost palatine teeth have a more complex morphology than the predicted optimal tooth, with an overall concave occlusal surface with a small, medial cusp. These findings are in keeping with the hypothesis that placodonts were specialized durophagous predators with teeth modified to break hard prey items while resisting tooth failure.
Alligators and caimans share a close relationship, supported by both molecular and morphological characters. The divergence between alligators and caimans has been difficult to discern in the fossil record. Two basal taxa have recently been described from the Miocene of Panama and Venezuela but have not yet been presented in a joint phylogeny. Continued preparation of the type material of the Venezuelan Globidentosuchus brachyrostris Scheyer et al., 2013 has revealed new characters for scoring in a cladistic framework. In addition, the first lower jaw of the Panamanian Centenariosuchus gilmorei Hastings et al., 2013 is described herein, and additional characters were scored. In total, we conducted five cladistic analyses to better understand the character evolution involved in the establishment of Caimaninae. In each case, Globidentosuchus appears as the basal-most of the caimanine lineage, followed by Culebrasuchus mesoamericanus Hastings et al., 2013 from Panama. Stepwise character additions of synapomorphies define progressively more derived caimanines, but stratigraphic context creates ghost lineages extending from the Miocene to Paleocene. The persistence of two basal taxa into the Miocene of northern South America and Central America supports the concept of a relict basal population in this region. This further supports biogeographic hypotheses of dispersals in both directions between North and South America prior to full land connection.
Ichthyosaurs, a lineage of extinct Mesozoic marine reptiles, have garnered attention in both the palaeontological and developmental literature for the unique limb morphology seen in derived genera. These morphologies include an increase in the number of phalanges per digit (hyperphalangy) and in the number of digits (hyperdactyly), but most interestingly also a shift in element identity. Elements distal to the stylopodium acquire characteristics of mesopodial elements, such as a rounded, nodular shape and a loss of perichondral bone on the anterior and posterior surfaces. Here, we examine numerous aspects of the loss of proximodistal identity in ichthyosaur limbs including phylogenetic progression of the loss of perichondral bone, histology and microstructure of the elements retaining perichondral bone in derived taxa, and correlates of intraspecific variation in degree of perichondral bone reduction in a derived ichthyosaur, Stenopterygius quadriscissus. Results show that loss of limb element identity occurred progressively over ichthyosaurian evolution, and the notches seen on the anterior surface of limb elements in derived ichthyosaurs are homologous to the long bone shafts in terrestrial tetrapods. Variation in the number of notches in S. quadriscissus can best be explained through delayed ossification of the anterior perichondrium, indicating a heterochronic component to the loss of identity. We propose a developmental mechanism – gradual expansion of the polyalanine region of HoxD13 over ichthyosaurian evolution – to explain the progressive loss of limb regionalization as well as the heterochronic delay in perichondral ossification.
Psephophorus polygonus Meyer, 1847, the first fossil leatherback turtle to be named, was described on the basis of shell ossicles from the middle Miocene (MN6–7/8?) of Slovakia. The whereabouts of this material is uncertain but a slab on display at the Naturhistorisches Museum Wien is considered the neotype. We rediscovered further type locality ossicles in four European institutions, re-evaluated their gross morphology and described for the first time their microstructure by comparing them with Dermochelys coriacea, the only living dermochelyid turtle. The gross morphology is congruent with that already described for P. polygonus, but with two significant exceptions: the ridged ossicles of P. polygonus may have a distinctly concave ventral surface as well as a tectiform shape in cross-section. They do not develop the external keel typical of many ossicles of D. coriacea. Both ridged and non-ridged ossicles of P. polygonus are characterized by compact diploe structures with an internal cortex consisting of a coarse fibrous meshwork, whereas the proportionately thinner ossicles of D. coriacea tend to lose the internal cortex, and thus their diploe, during ontogeny. The ossicles of both P. polygonus and D. coriacea differ from those of other lineages of amniotes whose carapace is composed of polygonal ossicles or platelets, in having growth centres situated at the plate centres just interior to the external bone surface and not within the cancellous core or closer to the internal compact layer. The new diagnosis of P. polygonus allows us to preliminarily re-evaluate the taxonomy of some of the Psephophorus-like species. Despite some macro- and micromorphological differences, it seems likely that Psephophorus was as cosmopolitan as extant Dermochelys and had a broadly similar ecology, with a possible difference concerning the dive depth.
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