Guaibasaurus: a theropod! (Not a sauropodomorph)

Just look at it!!
With those very short, sharply-clawed forelimbs, how could anyone misidentify Guaibasaurus as ancestral to sauropods? And yet several big-name paleontologists did exactly that, most recently Baron et al. 2017.

Figure 1. Tiny forelimbs with three sharp-clawed fingers indicate that Guaibasaurus is a theropod, not a sauropodomorph. Shown to scale with related theropods Marasuchus and Procompsognathus.

Figure 1. Tiny forelimbs with three sharp-clawed fingers indicate that Guaibasaurus is a theropod, not a sauropodomorph. Shown to scale with related theropods Marasuchus and Procompsognathus. The posture of this skeleton is similar to the resting position of birds, which are also theropods.

Guaibasaurus candelariensis (Bonaparte et al., 1999, 2007; UFRGS PV0725T; Late Triassic) is known from an articulated skeleton lacking a neck and skull. Originally considered a basal theropod, later studies allied it with basal sauropodomorphs. Here this specimen nests as a basal theropod in a rarely studied clade. In the large reptile tree (LRT, 1018 taxa) Guaibasaurus nests between Segisaurus and Marasuchus + Procompsognathus (Fig. 1).

Wikipedia reports:
José Bonaparte and colleagues, in their 1999 description of the genus, found it to be possible basal theropod and placed it in its own family, Guaibasauridae. Bonaparte and colleagues (2007) found another early Brazilian dinosaur Saturnalia to be very similar to it, and placed the two in the Guaibasauridae which was found to be a primitive saurischian group. Bonaparte found that these forms may have been primitive sauropodomorphs, or an assemblage of forms close to the common ancestor of the sauropodomorphs and theropods. Overall, Bonaparte found that both Saturnalia and Guaibasaurus were more theropod-like than prosauropod-like. However, all more recent cladistic analyses found the members of Guaibasauridae to be very basal sauropodomorphs, except Guaibasaurus itself which was found to be a basal theropod or alternatively a basal sauropodomorph.”

On a similar note, Ezcura 2010 report, 
“A phylogenetic analysis found Chromogisaurus to lie at the base of Sauropodomorpha, as a member of Guaibasauridae, an early branch of basal sauropodomorphs composed of Guaibasaurus, Agnosphitys, Panphagia, Saturnalia and Chromogisaurus.” See Figure 2. We need to realize there are some phytodinosaurs, like Eoraptor, Eodromaeus, Panphagia and Pampadromaeus, that are outside of the Sauropodomorpha and outside the Ornithischia. The greater paleo community has not recognized this yet.

Figure 2. Taxa variously considered members of the Guaibasauridae. Here the top few nest with or closer to Sauropodomorpha. The bottom taxa nest with theropods in the LRT.

Figure 2. Taxa variously considered members of the Guaibasauridae. Here the top few nest with or closer to Sauropodomorpha. The bottom taxa nest with theropods in the LRT. Note the small size of Marasuchus, Agnophitys and Procompsognathus. Evidently phylogenetic miniaturization was taking place here, but in this case we know of no ancestors. Maybe someday we will..

I realize the authors
of the Guaibasaurus Wiki article can’t take a stand nor do they choose to test the hypotheses of PhDs, but I can and do here. Science is all about testing observations, comparisons and analyses. When Baron et al. nested Guaibasaurus with the sauropodomorphs, and Eoraptor + Eodromaeus with theropods, and avoided including a long list of taxa from the only other archosaur clade, Crocodylomorpha. and avoided including a long list of taxa from the outgroup to the Archosauria, the Poposaurs, then their results have to be considered suspect at least and bogus at worst. Headline grabbing is fun and lucrative for paleontologists, but not always good for paleontology. So many mistakes have been chronicled that it’s getting to the point that discoveries need to be put on simmer and only lauded when other studies validate them. On the same note, referees are not being tough enough on manuscripts.

References
Baron MG, Norman DB, Barrett PM 2017. A new hypothesis of dinosaur relationships and early dinosaur evolution. Nature  543:501–506.
Bonaparte JF;Ferigolo J and Ribeiro AM 1999. 
A new early Late Triassic saurischian dinosaur from Rio Grande do Sol state, Brazil. Proceedings of the Second Gondwanan Dinosaur Symposium, National Science Museum Monographs. 15: 89–109.
Bonaparte JF, Brea G, Schultz CL and Martinelli AG 2007. A new specimen of Guaibasaurus candelariensis (basal Saurischia) from the Late Triassic Caturrita Formation of southern Brazil. Historical Biology, 19(1): 73-82.

Several appearances and disappearances of the neck

FIgure 1. Panderichthys has no neck, but closely related Tiktaalki does have a neck.

FIgure 1. Panderichthys has no neck, but closely related Tiktaalki does have a neck.

One of the main differences between fish and tetrapods,
other than the transition from fins to feet, is the origin of the neck. famously in the amphibian-like fish, Tiktaalik (Fig. 2). The proximal outgroup taxon in the large reptile tree (LRT, 1016 taxa), Panderichthys (Fig. 1), does not have a neck. The skull and opercular bones are jammed up against the cleithrum (pectoral girdle) permitting no wiggle room. That wiggle room ultimately comes from the disappearance of those opercular bones.

Figure 1. Tiktaalik had a neck, that small space between its skull and pectoral girdle not seen in more primitive taxa.

Figure 2. Tiktaalik had a neck, that small space between its skull and pectoral girdle is not seen in more primitive taxa, which retain opercular bones, lost in Tiktaalik.

It is noteworthy
that more primitive taxa than Tiktaalik, in the Paratetrapoda, like Pholidogaster and Colosteus (Fig. 3) also lack a neck. The pectoral girdle extends beneath the posterior jaws, as in Osteolepis.

Figure 1. Colosteus relatives according to the LRT. Only Pholidogaster and Colosteus are taxa in common with traditional colosteid lists. Note the lack of a neck in Osteolepis, Pholidogaster and Colosteus.

Figure 3. Colosteus relatives according to the LRT. Only Pholidogaster and Colosteus are taxa in common with traditional colosteid lists. Note the lack of a neck in Osteolepis, Pholidogaster and Colosteus.

The first tetrapod clade,
(Fig. 9) with flat-headed Greererpeton at its base, had a neck, though not much of one. In related taxa like Gerrothorax (Fig. 4), the skull and torso were so wide that a neck would have been useless for lateral movements, but essential to help the skull rise during feeding (famously, like a toilet bowl lid!). More derived taxa in this clade, like Metoposaurus, had a little more neck represented by more space between the skull and pectoral girdle.

Figure 1. Gerrothorax, lacks a supratemporal rim and has laterally extended ribs, similar to those in Greererpeton.

Figure 4. Gerrothorax, has a wide skull and wide torso permitting little to no lateral skull movement, but vertical movement is not impeded.

The second tetrapod clade,
(Fig. 9) with Ossinodus and Acanthostega (Fig. 5) at its base, likewise did not have much of a neck. Perhaps there was less of a neck than in more basal Tiktaalik. This is a small clade with just these two members, so far.

Figure 4. Acanthostega does not have much of a neck.

Figure 5. Acanthostega does not have much of a neck. There is little wiggle room between the skull and pectoral girdle.

The third tetrapod clade,
(Fig. 9) with Pederpes and Crassigyrinus (Fig. 6) at its base likewise had very little wiggle room between the skull and cleithrum. Crassigyrinus had a short neck between its cheeks, so likely was immobile. In this clade derived members, Sclerocephalus and Eryops, document the third appearance of the neck in tetrapods. Even so, it was a very short relatively immobile neck.

Figure 5. Crassigyrinus has little to no neck.

Figure 6. Crassigyrinus has little to no neck. What neck it has is now tucked between its cheeks.

The fourth tetrapod clade
(Fig. 9) with Ichthyostega (Fig. 7) as its base, might have had some wiggle room between the skull and tall cleithrum. Not sure whether the small skull or large skull is correct. Certainly its phylogenetic successor, the reptilomorph Proterogyrinus (Fig. 8), had a substantial neck as did most of its descendants (but see below for notable exceptions).

Figure 6. Not sure which is more correct, but this Ichthyostega data shows little to no wiggle room for the larger skull, more for the smaller skull.

Figure 7. Not sure which is more correct, but this Ichthyostega data shows little to no wiggle room for the larger skull, much more for the smaller skull.

Basal reptilomorpha
and in the clade Seymouriamorpha, like Seymouria, and in the LRT leads to both Reptilia and Lepospondyli, had an increasingly mobile neck.

Figure 6. Proterogyrinus had a substantial neck.

Figure 8. Proterogyrinus had a substantial neck apart from the pectoral girdle.

The number of cervicals
remains low (under 4) in basal lepospondyls, and sometimes that number decreases to one. An exception, Eocaecilia, had 5 elongate cervicals. Basal amniotes, like Gephyrostegus, had six flexible cervicals.

Figure 4. Subset of the LRT with the addition of Lethiscus as a sister to Oestocephalus, far from the transition between fins and feet. Here the microsaurs are not derived from basal reptiles

Figure 9. Subset of the LRT with the addition of Lethiscus as a sister to Oestocephalus, far from the transition between fins and feet. Here the microsaurs are not derived from basal reptiles

Notable reversals, back to lacking a neck, include:

  1. Rana, the frog.
  2. Cacops the basal lepospondyl
  3. Mixosaurus, the ichthyosaur and
  4. Eubaelana, the right whale, with short fused cervicals
Figure 5. Eubalaena australis, the Southern right whale nests with Cetotherium in the LRT.

Figure 10. Eubalaena australis, the Southern right whale nests with Cetotherium in the LRT. Here the cereals are fused and immobile.

 

 

Lethiscus: oldest of the tetrapod crown group?

Figure 1. Lethiscus stock skull, drawing from Pardo et al. 2017 and colorized here.

Figure 1. Lethiscus stocki skull, drawing from Pardo et al. 2017 and colorized here. Note the loss of the postfrontal and the large orbit. Pardo et al. nest this taxon between Acanthostega and Pederpes in figure 3. There is very little that is plesiomorphic about this long-bodied legless or virtually legless taxon. Thus it should nest as a derived taxon, not a basal plesiomorphic one.

Pardo et al. 2017
bring us new CT scan data on Lethiscus stocki (Wellstead 1982; Viséan, Early Carboniferous, 340 mya) a snake-like basal tetrapod related to Ophiderpeton (Fig. 2) in the large reptile tree (LRT, 1018 taxa), but with larger orbits.

Figure 1. Ophiderpeton (dorsal view) and two specimens of Oestocephalus (tiny immature and larger mature).

Figure 2. Ophiderpeton (dorsal view) and two specimens of Oestocephalus (tiny immature and larger mature).

Lethiscus is indeed very old (Middle Viséan)
but several reptiles are almost as old and Tulerpeton, a basal amniote, comes from the even older Late Devonian. So the radiation of small burrowing and walking tetrapods from shallow water waders must have occurred even earlier and Tulerpeton is actually the oldest crown tetrapod.

Figure 2. Pardo et al. cladogram nesting Lethiscus between vertebrates with fins and vertebrates with fingers. They also nest microsaurs as amniotes (reptiles). None of this is supported by the LRT.

Figure 3. Pardo et al. cladogram nesting Lethiscus between vertebrates with fins and vertebrates with fingers. They also nest microsaurs as amniotes (reptiles), resurrecting an old idea not supported in the LRT. Actually not much of this topology is supported by the LRT.

Pardo et al. nested Lethicus
between Acanthostega (Fig. 4) and Pederpes (Fig. 3) using a matrix that was heavily weighted toward brain case traits. Ophiderpeton and Oestocephalus (Fig. 2) were not included in their taxon list, though the clade is mentioned in the text: “Overall, the skull morphology demonstrates underlying similarities with the morphologies of both phlegethontiid and oestocephalid aïstopods of the Carboniferous and Permian periods.” So I’m concerned here about taxon exclusion. No other basal tetrapods share a lateral temporal fenestra or share more cranial traits than do Lethiscus, OphiderpetonOestocephalus and RileymillerusAll bones are identified here as they are in Pardo et al. so bone ID is not at issue. I can’t comment on the Pardo team’s braincase traits because so few are examined in the LRT. Dr. Pardo said they chose taxa in which the brain case traits were well known and excluded others.

Figure 4. Acanthostega does not have much of a neck.

Figure 4. Acanthostega is basal to Lethiscus in the Partdo et al. tree.

Pardo et al. considered
the barely perceptible notch between the tabular and squamosal in Lethiscus (Fig. 1) to be a “spiracular notch” despite its tiny size. I think they were reaching beyond reason in that regard. They also note: “The supratemporal bone is an elongate structure that forms most of the dorsal margin of the temporal fenestra, and is prevented from contacting the posterior process of the postorbital bone by a lateral flange of the parietal bone.” The only other taxon in the LRT that shares this morphology is Oestocephalus, Together they nest within the Lepospondyli (Fig. 3) in the LRT. I think it is inexcusable that Pardo et al. excluded  Ophiderpeton and Oestocephalus. 

Figure 4. Subset of the LRT with the addition of Lethiscus as a sister to Oestocephalus, far from the transition between fins and feet. Here the microsaurs are not derived from basal reptiles

Figure 4. Subset of the LRT with the addition of Lethiscus as a sister to Oestocephalus, far from the transition between fins and feet. Here the microsaurs are not derived from basal reptiles

Summarizing,
Pardo et al. report, “The braincase and its dermal investing bones [of Lethiscus] are strongly indicative of a very basal position among stem tetrapods.”  and “The aïstopod braincase was organized in a manner distinct from those of other lepospondyls but consistent with that seen in Devonian stem tetrapods.” It should also be noted that the skull, body and limbs were likewise distinct from those of other lepospondyls, yet they still nest with them in the LRT because no other included taxa (1018) share more traits. ‘Distinct’ doesn’t really cut it, in scientific terms. As I mentioned in an email to Dr. Pardo, it would have been valuable to show whatever bone in Lethiscus compared to its counterpart in Acanthostega and Oestocephalus if they really wanted to drive home a point. As it is, we casual to semi-professional readers are left guessing.

Pardo et al. references the clade Recumbirostra.
Wikipedia lists a number of microsaurs in this clade with Microbrachis at its base, all within the order Microsauria within the subclass Leposondyli. Pardo et al. report, “Recumbirostrans and lysorophians are found to be amniotes, sister taxa to captorhinids and diapsids.” The LRT does not support this nesting. Pardo et al. also report, “This result is consistent with early understandings of microsaur relationships and also reflects historical difficulties in differentiating between recumbirostrans and early eureptiles.” Yes, but the later studies do not support that relationship. Those early understandings were shown to be misunderstandings that have been invalidated in the LRT and elsewhere, but now resurrected by Pardo et al.

Ophiderpeton granulosum (Wright and Huxley 1871; Early Carboniferous–Early Permian, 345-295mya; 70cm+ length; Fig. 2, dorsal view)

Oestocephalus amphiuminus (Cope 1868; Fig. 2,  lateral views) is known from tiny immature and larger mature specimens.

Figure 7. A series of Phlegethontia skulls showing progressive lengthening of the premaxilla and other changes.

Figure 5. A series of Phlegethontia skulls showing progressive lengthening of the premaxilla and other changes.

A side note:
The recent addition of several basal tetrapod taxa has shifted the two Phlegethontia taxa (Fig.5) away from Colosteus to nest with Lethiscus and Oestocephalus, their traditional aistopod relatives. That also removes an odd-bedfellow, tiny, slender taxon from a list of large robust stem tetrapods.

References
Pardo JD,Szostakiwskyj M, Ahlberg PE and Anderson JS 2017. Hidden morphological diversity among early tetrapods. Nature (advance online publication) doi:10.1038/nature22966
Wellstead CF 1982. A Lower Carboniferous aïstopod amphibian from Scotland. Palaeontology. 25: 193–208.
Wright EPand Huxley TH 1871. On a Collection of Fossil Vertebrata, from the Jarrow Colliery, County of Kilkenny, Ireland. Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy 24:351-370

wiki/Acherontiscus
wiki/Adelospondylus
wiki/Adelogyrinus
wiki/Dolichopareias
wiki/Ophiderpeton
wiki/Oestocephalus
wiki/Rileymillerus
wiki/Acherontiscus

Don’t give up on the origin of pterosaurs!

Evidently it is still widely held
that pterosaurs appeared suddenly without antecedent. As evidence of this failure to follow the data, I came across a blog called Tetrapod Flight in which the author, Leon Linde, writes on Monday, March 16, 2015:

  1. The first tetrapods to evolve powered flight were the pterosaurs. True
  2. These were a group of archosaurs related to the dinosaurs, but not dinosaurs themselves. False. Pterosaurs are lepidosaurs, not related to dinos. 
  3. The earliest known pterosaur was Eudimorphodon, who lived in what is now Italy around 230-220 million years ago, in the late Triassic. True enough
  4. However, while the earliest known pterosaur, Eudimorphodon had specialised multi-cusped teeth not found in any of the later pterosaurs, so it would not have been ancestral to them but rather part of a distinct pterosaur lineage that died out in the Triassic. False. Multicupsed teeth are found in several Triassic pterosaurs AND in their proximal sisters. 
  5. Furthermore, both Eudimorphodon and other late Triassic pterosaurs are “completely” developed, having all the typical pterosaur skeletal characteristics. True. That’s why they are called pterosaurs. They have all ‘the goods’.
  6. This suggests the origins of pterosaurs may lie even further back in the past, in the earlier Triassic or perhaps even in the Permian (Wellnhofer, 1991). Yes to the earlier (Middle) Triassic (Cosesaurus) and No to the Permian. 
  7. No fossils of the pterosaurs’ immediate ancestors are known. False. We have pterosaur proximal and distant ancestors going back to basal tetrapods with fins. Click here
  8. The most likely theory on their origins is that they evolved from arboreal creatures that would leap from branch to branch, flapping their forelimbs to stay airborne longer. Actually we have evidence for this scenario chronicled here.
  9. Pterosaur hips had great freedom of movement, their knees and ankles were hinge-like and their feet were plantigrade. True, True, True and False. Some beachcombers had plantigrade feet, but basal forms did not. 
  10. The knees and ankles did not permit the necessary rotation for them to move bipedally, so pterosaurs were obligate quadrupeds (though they may have had bipedal ancestors). False. Like living bipedal lizards, basal pterosaurs were bipedal and agile. We have their tracks! Later forms, especially beachcombers, were quadrupedal, and we have their tracks, too.
  11. A possible explanation for these features is that the early pterosaurs or proto-pterosaurs were arboreal creatures that evolved powerful leaping from branch to branch as an active mode of transport not dissimilar to that of arboreal leaping primates (Christopher, 1997). This reference should be Bennett 1997. Powerful leaping, fast running, yes, but without the use of the hands, which were flapping like those of birds and getting larger. Hard to develop wings when you’re using your hands on the ground. 
  12. These arboreal leapers would not have been gliders, who merely fall slowly downwards and forwards with the help of special flaps, but rather creatures utilising a quite different form of locomotion, one that led them to eventually having their forelimbs evolve into more and more sophisticated flapping airfoils. True! But not like the image below (which appeared on the blog post). This pretty but bogus image shows no flapping and no reason or benefit to having proto-wings on this dinosaur that should have been a fenestrasaur. 

Click to enlarge. A false series of pterosaur ancestors. Artist: Maija Karala.

Sadly
this state of affairs in pterosaur research shows that the general public and pterosaur artists and workers alike are still stuck in the tail-dragging age. Evidently, they have decided to shun and overlook recent data that chronicles and documents the origin of pterosaurs.  See below and here.

References
Peters D 2000a. Description and Interpretation of Interphalangeal Lines in Tetrapods.  Ichnos 7:11-41.
Peters D 2000b. A Redescription of Four Prolacertiform Genera and Implications for Pterosaur Phylogenesis. Rivista Italiana di Paleontologia e Stratigrafia 106 (3): 293–336.
Peters D 2002. A New Model for the Evolution of the Pterosaur Wing – with a twist. – Historical Biology 15: 277–301.
Peters D 2007. The origin and radiation of the Pterosauria. In D. Hone ed. Flugsaurier. The Wellnhofer pterosaur meeting, 2007, Munich, Germany. p. 27.
Peters D 2009. A reinterpretation of pteroid articulation in pterosaurs. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 29: 1327-1330
Wild R 1993. A juvenile specimen of Eudimorphodon ranzii Zambelli (Reptilia, Pterosauria) from the upper Triassic (Norian) of Bergamo. Rivisita Museo Civico di Scienze Naturali “E. Caffi” Bergamo 16: 95-120.

wiki/Cosesaurus

 

 

Chinlestegophis and the origin of caecilia

Yesterday Pardo et al. 2017
described two conspecific and incomplete amphibians in the lineage of caecilians, Chinlestegophis jerkinsi (DMNH 56658, DMNH 39033, Figs. 1, 3). These long-sought specimens were discovered in the late 1990s preserved in Late Triassic burrows.

This is really big news!
Congratulations to the Pardo team!!

From the abstract:
“Here, we report on a small amphibian from the Upper Triassic of Colorado, United States, with a mélange of caecilian synapomorphies and general lissamphibian plesiomorphies. We evaluated its relationships by designing an inclusive phylogenetic analysis that broadly incorporates definitive members of the modern lissamphibian orders and a diversity of extinct temnospondyl amphibians, including stereospondyls. Stem caecilian morphology reveals a previously unrecognized stepwise acquisition of typical caecilian cranial apomorphies during the Triassic. A major implication is that many Paleozoic total group lissamphibians (i.e., higher temnospondyls, including the stereospondyl subclade) fall within crown Lissamphibia, which must have originated before 315 million years ago.”

The diagnosis:
“Small stereospondyl with a combination of brachyopoid and caecilian characteristics.”  Stereospondyls were generally large, flat-skulled aquatic taxa that had simplified and rather weak vertebrae in which the intercentrum was topped by a neural arch and the pleurocentrum was reduced to absent. According to Wikipedia, “All lepospondyls have simple, spool-shaped vertebrae that did not ossify from cartilage, but rather grew as bony cylinders around the notochord.” 

This is the opposite of
Reptilomorphs, in which the pleurocentra are large and the intercentra are smaller. Reptilomorphs generally were smaller and better adapted to terrestrial environments.

In the LRT traditional stereospondyls
(Fig. 5, pink) are mid-sized basalmost tetrapods, aquatic with a weak backbone because they are not far from fish with fins. Temnospondyls have stronger limbs and stronger backbones (Fig. 5, yellow), but typically remain large and aquatic.

Reptilomorphs 
(Fig. 5, orange) tend to be smaller with stronger limbs and vertebrae and reduce their dependence on water. Both lepospondyls (including living amphibians) and reptiles arise from this clade in the LRT.

Few microsaurs
were included in the Pardo et al study (Fig. 4) and the topology of their tree is very different from the present topology. Caecilians nest with lepospondyl microsaurs in the large reptile tree (LRT, 2014).

In addition
several skull bones are identified differently here (Fig. 1) than in the Pardo et al. study (Fig. 3). Pardo et al. identify an otic notch (that hole in the temporal region). Here that appears to be the space left open after the supratemporal has popped out during taphonomy. The supraorbital bones are all re-identified and both the lacrimal and quadratojugal are now listed in the present identification of bones. Based on conversations with Pardo and others, bone identification on several taxa may be the cause of the differing tree topologies.

Figure 1. GIF movie showing the two skulls of Chinlestegophis from Pardo et al. 2017 with DGS colors applied to both along with a revised set of bone labels

Figure 1. GIF movie showing the two skulls of Chinlestegophis from Pardo et al. 2017 with DGS colors applied to both along with a revised set of bone label based on phylogenetic bracketing among the previously excluded microsaurs close to caecilians.

Outgroup taxa should help identify the bones.
Pardo et al. recover Rileymillerus and Batrachosuchus as outgroup taxa within a large clade that includes Eryops and Sclerocephalosaurus at one base and Trimerorhachis and Greererpeton at the very base. By contrast, the LRT recovers Microbrachis and ultimately Utegenia as outgroup taxa. Microsaurs, Microbrachis and Utegenia were not mentioned in the Pardo et al. report.

First step: Learn about Rileymillerus
As usual, I knew nothing about this taxon earlier this week. Now, according to the LRT Rileymillerus nests with Oestocephalus and Ophiderpeton, two other long-bodied microsaurs with round cross-section skulls, not included in the Pardo et all study.  The apparent loss or lack of bones in the temporal region may be homologous with the lateral temporal fenestra in Ophiderpeton. That’s a rare trait among basal tetrapods.

Figure 3. Rileymillerus from Bolt and Chatterjee 2000 with colors applied.

Figure 2. Rileymillerus from Bolt and Chatterjee 2000 with colors applied. Note the lack of bone on both sides of the temples in this specimen, as in Ophiderpeton. The color (DGS) identify of the bones here is not in complete accord with Bolt and Chatterjee. As you can see, the skull has many cracks, which makes finding the sutures that much more difficult.

Unfortunately
Pardo et al. excluded most of the taxa that the LRT found were most closely related to the clade Chinlestephos + (caecilians + lysorophians) That includes Microbrachis and the rest of the microsaurs. They had good reason for doing so (see below).

Figure 3. Chinlestegophis diagram. Drawings produced by Pardo et al. At left bones colored as they labeled them. At right same bone colors rearranged to fit the new interpretation. See figure 1.

Figure 3. Chinlestegophis diagram. Drawings produced by Pardo et al. At left bones colored as they labeled them. At right same bone colors rearranged to fit the new interpretation. See figure 1. The lateral temporal fenestra is interpreted here as the spot on the skull that once held the supratemporal. No related taxa have a lateral temporal fenestra in either cladogram.

The Pardo et al. skull bone labels
differ from the present interpretation (Fig. 3). Even with such massive dissonance, Pardo et al. and the LRT both nest Chinlestegophis with caecilians and not far from Rileymillerus.

How can such a thing happen??
I can’t answer that at present. It’s frankly surprising.

Figure 4. Pardo et al. cladogram nesting caecilians as ultra-derived temnospondyls.

Figure 4. Pardo et al. cladogram nesting caecilians as ultra-derived temnospondyls. Taxa also present in the LRT are highlighted to show the general mixup of taxa that the LRT separates.

The drifting of the postorbital
In most tetrapods the postorbital is one of the circumorbital bones. In caecilians and their relatives the postfrontal takes over that spot and the postorbital drifts posteriorly, still lateral to the parietal. This observation may be one of the issues attending circumorbital and temporal bone identification arguments in this clade.

Figure 5. Basal tetrapod subset of the LRT. This cladogram includes microsaurs. When given the opportunity to nest with microsaurs, caecilians do so.

Figure 5. Basal tetrapod subset of the LRT. This cladogram includes microsaurs. When given the opportunity to nest with microsaurs, caecilians do so.

In their Supplemental Info
Pardo et al. added the traits for Chinlestegophis to the dataset of Maddin et al. 2012 (who earlier described Jurassic Eocaecilia) and found Chinlestegophis nested with Rileymillerus, close to the stem frog Micromelerpeton and strong-legged Acheloma all far from the caecilians and all derived from a sister to giant Eryops. This study did include microsaurs. Lots of them! Other mismatches include nesting the large reptile Limnoscelis between Seymouria and tiny Utaherpeton and Microbrachis, taxa that share few traits with each other in the LRT. Numerous other morphological mismatches also occur In Maddin et al. Evidently no one is using scaled reconstructions in their analyses as a final check on these mismatches. In the LRT caecilians nest with similar long-bodied, tiny-limbed taxa, which some claim is due to convergence. On a similar note, the LRT lumped and separated snakes from amphisbaenids while other trees failed to do this. So perhaps convergence is not the reason here when dealing with burrowing amphibians.

Figure 6. Maddin et al. cladogram featuring only two temnospondyls from the LRT. Here Chinlestegophis does not nest with caecilians.

Figure 6. Maddin et al. cladogram featuring only two temnospondyls from the LRT. Here Chinlestegophis does not nest with caecilians and Rileymllerus nests far from Oestocephalus.

A note from Jason Pardo
restates that the Maddin et al. study “found no close relationship between Eocaecilia and lepospondyls nor did we find a close relationship between Chinlestegophis and those taxa.”

Figure 6. Living caecilian photo.

Figure 7. Living caecilian photo. Lengths range from 6 inches to 5 feet.

All three cladograms
share few major branches in common. As everyone knows by now, the major branches are the more difficult ones to determine. And, if we can’t agree on the identify of the skull bones, of specimens, the tree topologies will have a hard time finding consensus.

Wikipedia reports,
“Currently, the three prevailing theories of lissamphibian (extant amphibians) origin are:

  1. Monophyletic within the temnospondyli
  2. Monophyletic within lepospondyli
  3. Diphyletic (two separate ancestries) with apodans (=caecilians) within the lepospondyls and salamanders and frogs within the temnospondyli.”
Figure 8. Skull of Microbrachis in several views. Here is where the postorbital leaves the orbit margin and drifts posteriorly. Compare to Chinlestegophis above.

Figure 9. Skull of Microbrachis in several views. Here is where the postorbital leaves the orbit margin and drifts posteriorly. Compare to Chinlestegophis above.

So… even the experts have not come to a consensus
on basal tetrapod topologies. The LRT agrees that the lissamphibia are monophyletic within the lepospondyli, matching option #2 above. There are many aspects of caecilians that need to be interpreted in light of their phylogeny. And we’re not coming to a consensus on that. Earlier we looked at the fusion of the cheek bones in caecilians here with the extant taxon Dermophis.

References
Bolt JR and Chatterjee S 2000. A New Temnospondyl Amphibian from the Late Triassic of Texas. Journal of Paleontology 74(4):670-683.
Maddin HC, Jenkins FA, Jr, Anderson JS 2012. The braincase of Eocaecilia micro podia (Lissamphibia, Gymnophiona) and the origin of Caecilians. PLoS One 7:e50743.
Pardo JD, Small BJ and Huttenlocker AK. 2017, Stem caecilian from the Triassic of Colorado sheds light on the origins of Lissamphibia. PNAS: 7 pp. www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1706752114

 

Related mammals that nest at the bases of several hoofed clades

The value
of the large reptile tree (LRT, 1013 taxa) and the reconstructions gathered together at ReptileEvolution.com lie in their ability to put faces on names (Figs, 1) sometimes to scale (Fig. 2) to help one recognize patterns that may have gone unrecognized while just looking at names and scores.

These are the mammals that nest with one another
as sisters after deletion of more derived taxa in each of their several clades (listed at right, Fig. 1). Thus they, more or less, represent the basal radiation of hoofed mammals prior to each clade radiation. And to no one’s surprise, they look like each other, despite wide variations in size.

Frankly,
I’m reexamining the traits of these taxa because the LRT had trouble resolving them. There were mistakes in there. Now, after some score corrections, the resolution is complete again, but some Bootstrap scores have risen to just above 50. Not great, but better than below 50. Remember, I don’t have access to these specimens and sometimes work from published drawings.

Figure 1. Skulls of taxa nesting at the bases of several mammal clades starting with mesonychids.

Figure 1. Skulls of taxa nesting at the bases of several mammal clades starting with mesonychids. The differences are harder to see than in derived taxa in each clade (column at right). See figure 2 for skeletons to scale.

Some of these basal taxa
gave rise to baleen whales. Others were ancestral to giraffes, elephants, horses and everything in between. None of these taxa are nearly so famous or interesting to the general public, but it is from these generalized (plesiomorphic) taxa that the few and subtle evolutionary changes that are key to each clade first make an appearance.

Figure 2. Skeletons of taxa basal to various clades derived from basal mesonychids, all to scale.

Figure 2. Skeletons of taxa basal to various clades derived from basal mesonychids, all to scale. Note the presence of phylogenetic miniaturization at the base of the Artiodactyla. Consider this scenario: mesonychids radiated widely, including to create larger and smaller taxa. The larger homalotheres did not radiate greatly, as far as we know. On the other hand, the smaller taxa radiated to become a long list of extinct and exact hoofed taxa. And, of course, the mesonychid clade radiated to include today’s hippos and baleen whales. 

Sometimes a ‘show and tell’ drives a point home
better than just a ‘tell’. Even so, these are not the precise individuals in the direct lineage of known derived taxa, but the close relatives of those perhaps eternally unknown and hypothetical individuals. The suite of traits that lump and separate these taxa can be gleaned from the present MacClade file, continually added to and updated, and available here., which is where you can also see the cladogram from which the above taxa were pulled.

 

Clavicles, the furcula, and what’s going on in basal archosaurs

Updated within 24 hours of this post with a look at Vickaryous and Hall 2006, which just came to my attention. They consider the possibility of homologizing the interclavicle and furcula. See below.

Today’s post
comes from a paper on clavicles and furculae by Bryant and Russell (1993). The question was: since most theropods, and most dinosaurs, do/did not have clavicles, is the furcula of birds a neomorph (new structure)? Or is this the reappearance, after a phylogenetic gap, of topologically identical clavicles? The question becomes more complex with the occasional appearance of clavicles in the Dinosauria.

Nesbitt et al. 2009
updated the furcula issue. They write, “Given this absence of clavicles and interclavicle in dinosaurian outgroups, the homology of the furcula to other components of the shoulder girdle has been contentious (Bryant and Russell, 1993). This debate is based largely on absence of evidence and will be explored more fully latter in this article.” They continued, Additionally, topographic connectivity of the furcula to the other pectoral girdle elements in avian and other theropod dinosaurs is entirely consistent with and supportive of homology of the avian clavicle with the ancestral reptilian and tetrapod clavicle.” 

Of course, the Nesbitt et al. outgroups
are not the same outgroups in the LRT.

Before we start
Bryant and Russell followed the invalidated tradition of including pterosaurs with dinosaurs in the outmoded clade, Ornithodira. Worse than that, they and a number of high-profile paleontologists before them believed that pterosaurs had neither clavicles nor an interclavicle. Wild 1993 demonstrated that the pterosaur sternal complex is comprised of fused clavicles, interclavicle and sternum. These are separate in the pterosaur ancestor, Cosesaurus. Nesbitt et al. 2009 acknowledged that observation by Wild 1993 and agreed on the fusion of the sternal and clavicle elements in pterosaurs, However they followed in the wake of the invalid Ornithodira hypothesis.

In the large reptile tree
(LRT, 1012) clavicles that are mediallly broad are present in fish and basal tetrapods. That’s where we start. The situation changes in:

  1. Frogs and kin – clavicles are medially narrow
  2. The Tuditanus clade – clavicles are medially narrow
  3. Pantylus – clavicles are medially narrow
  4. The Microbrachis clade – clavicles are medially narrow
  5. Within the Reptilia/Lepidosauromorpha: the Milleretta clade (remaining Lepidosauromorpha – clavicles are medially narrow,
  6. Except the Caseasauria and except Turtles, where clavicles become part of the plastron
  7. And except Mecistotrachelos clade where the clavicles are absent
  8. and except Longisquama + Pterosauria where the clavicles are fused to the sternal complex
  9. and except Tetrapodophis + snakes.
  10. Within the Reptilia/Archosauromorpha: the Diplovertebron/Romeriscus clade – clavicles are medially narrow
  11. The Anomodontia – clavicles are medially narrow
  12. Titanophoneus + Cynodontia (including mammals) – clavicles are medially narrow
  13. Except in higher Carnivora – clavicles are absent
  14. Except in Odontoceti – clavicles are absent
  15. Except in Phenacodontidae (includes all hoofed mammals)
  16. Prodiapsida – clavicles are medially narrow except Petrolacosaurus where clavicles are medially broad.
  17. Except Nothosaurus – clavicles are medially broad
  18. Except the Simosaurus clade (plesiosaurs) – clavicles are medially broad
  19. Within basal Younginiformes (including Archosauriformes) – clavicles are medially narrow
  20. Except in certain Rauisuchids, Decuriasuchus, where clavicles are provisionally absent.
  21. Clavicles are present in the poposaurs, Poposaurus and Lotosaurus – except TurfanosuchusSilesaurusShuvosaurus + Effigia (derived poposaurs) where clavicles are provisionally absent.
  22. Except Crocodylomorpha (crocs) – clavicles are absent
  23. In basal Dinosauria and Prodinosauria the pectoral region is not well preserved (see below)
  24. Except possibly in Junggarsuchus (Fig. 1) – tiny clavicles may be present
  25. Within Orinithischia: Psittacosaurus – clavicles are medially narrow (neomorph)
  26. Within Sauropodomorpha: Massospondylus – clavicles are medially narrow (neomorph?)
  27. Segisaurus, Coelophysis and higher theropods – furcula is present, as in birds, but lost in ornithomimosaurs and several other derived theropod clades 

The furcula and the absence of clavicles
Then furcula goes back to basal theropods, but is lost in certain theropod clades, like Ornithomimosauria. In basal theropods it appears to be  a neomorph without direct antecedent. At present, as Newbitt et al. noted, in basal Archosauria (all crocs and basal dinos) the clavicles have not been found. In general the clavicle appears to be lost in taxa that are preserved incomplete and scattered.

But all is not lost…
If we could only find a clavicle in Lewisuchus,. Gracilisuchus, Junggarsuchus, Herrrerasaurus and Tawa we would have a more or less continuous clavicle presence from fish to birds in the LRT. These taxa need to either have a set of clavicles, or some excuse for not preserving them. The latter appears to be the case often enough, as demonstrated here:

  1. Lewisuchus – incomplete and jumbled specimen in which the clavicles could have been washed away.
  2. Gracilisuchus – pertinent area lost during excavation
  3. Junggarsuchus – appears to be minimally and tentatively present (Fig. 1), but really,  who knows what that little green bone is?
  4. Herrerasaurus and Sanjuansaurus – pertinent area lost during excavation
  5. Tawa – represented by “two nearly complete skeletons and several other partial specimens collected in a tightly associated small grouping at a single locality.” but no clavicle was reported and no in situ images were published suggesting that the skeletons were disassociated. Moreover, any out-of-place clavicles could be mistaken for ribs.
  6. Eodromaeus – forelimbs and pectoral girdle missing from holotype.
  7. Eoraptor – clavicles were not found and the pectoral girdle has taphonomically shifted.

In summary,
the data is largely missing from the transitional taxa at and near the base of the Archosauria. So there’s still hope that the clavicles were present in these taxa and will someday be discovered among more complete fossils.

Figure 2. Junggarsuchus and its overlooked clavicle. Let's consider this provisional until confirmed.

Figure 1. Junggarsuchus and its overlooked clavicle. Let’s consider this provisional until confirmed.

Finding overlooked traits
For decades it was thought that no dinosaurs had a furcula or even clavicles. As it turns out, at least in Theropoda, they were largely overlooked. Nesbitt et al. 2009 write: “Furculae occur in nearly all major clades of theropods, as shown by new theropod specimens from the Early Cretaceous of China and a close inspection of previously collected specimens.” Finding overlooked traits is something we should all be doing. Some of these turn out to be important.

On a similar note…
earlier we looked at the homology of the central bones of the wrist and their migration to the medial rim in pterosaurs and pandas, and the previously overlooked evidence for that.

Update
Vickaryous and Hall 2006 employed embryology to determine that the Alligator interclavicle is equally parsimonious as a homolog of the Gallus furcula. They note:

  1. “the lateral processes (of the interclavicle in Alligator) are lost yielding a flattened bar-like element.” Actually that I-shaped bar goes back to basal crocodylomorphs.
  2. “At no time during skeletogenesis (in Alligator) are there any signs of any developmental stages of clavicles or clavicular rudiments, nor are there any signs of cartilage (primary or secondary).” — this statement speaks for itself.
  3. “The furcula is present (in Gallus) by HH 33 as a bilateral pair of condensations that have not fused in the midline” — This sounds like clavicles to me.
  4. “The pectoral apparatus of basal ornithodirans (falsely including pterosaurs) is incompletely known, and it remains unclear which if any mid-ventral dermal element was present.” That list is shown above. 
  5. Although previously interpreted as clavicles (in Psittacosaurus and Massospondylus), the identity of these elements is herein considered equivocal.” — no reason given, no phylogenetic path proposed.
  6. Vickaryous and Hall suggest the incorporation of the clavicle and interclavicle into the sternal complex of pterosaurs is restricted to one juvenile, and “has yet to be demonstrated in other taxa.” – This is what scientists and PterosaurHeresies readers would immediately call ‘recognizing a presence in the literature, but minimizing its impact on the present study and avoiding any effort at finding out what the situation actually is in other pterosaurs.’ I have also looked at the sternal complex of many pterosaurs and have observed that the interclavicle and clavicles are incorporated into the sternal complex of ALL pterosaurs and a few outgroup taxa, in which you can see the process happening. At present, and after reading Vicaryous and Hall 2006, I see no reason to homologize the interclavicle and the furcula.

References
Bryant HN and Russell  AP 1993. The occurrence of of clavicles within Dinosauria: Implications for the homology of the avian furcula and the utility of negative evidence. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 13(2):171–184.
Nesbitt S, Turner AH, Spaulding M and Norell MA 2009. The Theropod Furcula. Journal of Morphology 270(7):856–879.
Wild R 1993. A juvenile specimen of Eudimorphodon ranzii Zambelli (Reptilia, Pterosauria) from the upper Triassic (Norian) of Bergamo. Rivisita Museo Civico di Scienze Naturali “E. Caffi” Bergamo 16: 95–120.
Vicaryous MK and Hall BK 2006. Homology of the reptilian coracoid and a reappraisal of the evolution and development of the amniote pectoral apparatus Journal of Experimental Zoology (Molecular and Developenmtal Evolution) 314B 196-207.