Nesting turtles with pterosaurs redux 2011-2015

For those who don’t read the ‘Letters to the Editor’,
a recent comment on sister taxa inspired me to revisit the old experiment that nested pterosaurs and turtles together as a result of taxon exclusion, which you can review here.

By default nestings
can be interesting and silly. The point behind nesting pterosaurs with turtles back then was to examine the folly behind nesting pterosaurs with archosaurs — only possible due to a similar taxon exclusion that’s been going on for at least fifteen years now, following the publication of a phylogenetic analysis that nested pterosaurs with fenestrasaurs (Peters 2000) and has been ignored ever since.

Back in the day (July 2011) with 360 taxa,
when all other taxa were removed from the lepidosauromorph side of the large reptile treeProganochelys, the turtle, nested with MPUM6009, the pterosaur at the base of the Sauropterygia. That’s bizarre, but interesting and hopefully enlightening by analogy to the achosaur-link question.

Today,with 508 taxa,
and deleting all other lepidosauromorphs, the pterosaur now nests between Cathayornis and Struthio, the ostrich, + Gallus, the chicken. The turtle now nests with the frogs, between Doleserpeton and Gerobatrachus + Rana.

Hmm. Let’s fix that.
Let’s delete the amphibians and add the basal lizard Huehuecuetzpalli and guess what happens?

The three lepidosauromorphs:
the turtle, the lizard and the pterosaur, all nest together again in their own clade at the base of the Sauropterygia… in other words, nowhere near dinos, pre-dinos, parasuchians, Lagerpeton or Marasuchus. Delete Huehuecuetzpalli and Proganochelys nests with the turtle-like placodont, Henodus, as you might imagine, while the basal pterosaur bounces back to the birds. So one taxon in-between the turtle and pterosaur were needed this time to glue them together in a single clade and to trump the attraction of other candidate sisters.

Bottom line:
by including more and more taxa the large reptile tree provides more and more nesting sites, and thus the large reptile tree minimizes unwanted ‘by default’ nestings. Up to now other workers have been relying an tradition and paradigm for their taxon lists, and many of those traditions have been tested (and falsified) at When workers base their smaller, more focused studies on a larger umbrella study, they will have greater success and greater confidence that their cladogram is a good one = with no ‘by default’ nestings.


2 thoughts on “Nesting turtles with pterosaurs redux 2011-2015

  1. This may be a bit out-of-the-blue, but in the large reptile tree, I noticed that there is only one pterosaur, MPUM 6009, in the tree. The rest are in a separate tree. Why haven’t you coded any more true pterosaurs in the large reptile tree? Adding a few more pterosaurs to the tree, such as Preondactylus, Eudimorphodon, and Dimorphodon, may help other researchers believe your claims about their placement.

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