Flugsaurier 2015: Reports from Darren Naish

Flugsaurier 2015 (Portsmouth, England) took place recently. More pterosaur guys are in one room at one time whenever these meetings take place.

According to director David Martill,
one is not supposed to report on the abstracts if one did not attend or pay the necessary fees. That’s fair. So, based on Darren Naish’s reportage, (not the abstract publication) “there were no big news items at this meeting, but some intriguing possibilities for the future were mentioned.”

Naish reports, “A set of Triassic taxa that have multi-cusped cheek teeth – the eudimorphodontids and/or campylognathoidids – are posited as one of the earliest pterosaur lineages to evolve by some workers (like Brian Andres and Steven Vidovic), but as being far closer to pterodactyloids by others (like David Unwin). So, apparently a bit of confusion/contention there. According to the large pterosaur tree, the Triassic pterosaurs were indeed basal to other taxa.

Naish reports, specimens previously assumed to belong to Eudimorphodon have recently been the subject of revision by Alex Kellner who spoke about his recent naming of Arcticodacylus, Austriadraco and Bergamodactylus (Kellner 2015). As readers know, phylogenetic analysis in Peters (2007) indicated this earlier. Happily Kellner named them.

Naish reports, Mark Witton presented a new integrated view of Dimorphodon’s anatomy and biology — not a ‘puffin pterosaur,’ but highly terrestrial [see Padian 1984 and here] and with poor flight abilities compared to most of its relatives. [Unlikely that a Jurassic pterosaur would have poor flight abilities when it has every trait other good flyers had.]

Naish reports, “Steve Vidovic told us his really intriguing idea that anurognathids might be paedomorphic scaphognathines (or scaphognathids, if you prefer).” [No way, see here]

To his credit, Naish reports, “I don’t think he’s right, but it sure is intriguing. Anurognathids remain one of the most perplexing pterosaur groups of all and they possess a curious mix of anatomical features.” [The problem is no one is doing accurate tracings and creating reconstructions of anurognathid skeletons, as shown here and here]

Naish reports, There are thrilling and (arguably) terrifying rumours about a new anurognathid discovery, soon to be announced.” Hope its a big one from China to match the embryo the size of other adult anurognathids.

Naish reports, Darwinopterus from the Middle or Upper Jurassic Tiaojishan Formation of Liaoning Province, China, continues to be a pivotal taxon as goes our developing understanding of pterosaur evolution and biology. As is well known, Darwinopterus seemingly combines anatomical traits of pterodactyloids in its skull with non-pterodactyloid features in the wrist, feet and elsewhere. This composite anatomy indicates that so-called modular evolution was important in the early evolution of the lineage that led to pterodactyloids, the largest and most successful pterosaur group (Lü et al. 2010). Accordingly, Darwinopterus was – when first published – posited as a key ‘intermediate’ taxon between long-tailed, five-toed pterosaurs like the rhamphorhynchids and the short-tailed, four-toed pterodactyloids (Lü et al. 2010).” [Naish is aware of, but politely not mentioning, competing phylogenetic analysis (by everyone else doing such analyses) that do not nest Darwinopterus where Lü et al. do.]

Naish reports, “Cuspicephalus from the English Kimmeridge Clay was recently reinterpreted as an animal of this sort [a ‘monofenestran] by Witton et al. (2015). Incidentally, the Cuspicephalus holotype specimen was on display at the meeting.”

Naish reports, “Back in 2013, I and colleagues described the new small pterosaur Vectidraco daisymorrisae (based only on a pelvis and its associated vertebrae) from the Vectis Formation of the Isle of Wight (Naish et al. 2013). I’m pleased to say that this animal was the subject of two presentations. The first was by Rachel Frigot and looked at muscle attachment sites on the specimen and what they might tell us about pterosaur biomechanics. And the second was by Liz Martin-Silverstone and concerned an in-prep study (also involving myself and Dan Sykes) on the detailed anatomy of this animal. It turns out that structures originally identified (Naish et al. 2013) as pneumatic foramina are not pneumatic foramina… they’re actually spinal nerve foramina (what a silly mistake). There’s a whole story here that I’ll discuss once the project is closer to publication. Until then, you can get some idea of where we’re going by reading Liz’s excellent article here.”

Naish reports, “Incidentally, the phylogenetic hypothesis that we initially favoured for Vectidraco – that it’s an azhdarchoid, allied in some way to tapejarids – has been supported by other workers (though the relevant conclusions are unpublished, I think). Many provincial fossil taxa named on the basis of scrappy remains are nice additions to our understanding of distribution and diversity but all too often have little to say about big picture stuff. At the moment I like to think that Vectidraco may well be different – it’s already proving quite instrumental as goes several unconnected research strands.” [We looked at Vectidraco earlier here. BTW – Tapejarids are not related to azhdarchids, according to the large pterosaur tree, but share one trait, an elevated antorbital fenestra, which has caused most of the confusion.]

Naish reports, “What about the best azhdarchoids, and best pterosaurs of all… the azhdarchids? James Brown had a really neat poster on the neurovascular anatomy of azhdarchid jaws from Morocco (probably referable to Alanqa). The relevant details are most comparable to those of cranes.” [hmm, wading cranes, not stalking hornbills, as some workers surmise, but wait… there’s more >>>]

Naish reports,  “the new bits of data that come in on azhdarchids are consistent with the Witton & Naish (2008) terrestrial stalking model. Not with aerial scoop-netting (see Witton & Naish 2015), or sediment-probing, or skim-feeding, or obligate scavenging, or aerial predation, or heron-like wading. My own talk was on where we are right now as goes the copious new azhdarchid material from the latest Cretaceous of Romania. It seems that azhdarchids were more variable in proportions, and perhaps ecology and behaviour, than thought before, with long-necked and (comparatively) short-necked taxa, and small and large taxa, living in sympatry (Vremir et al. 2013, 2015). There’s a bigger story here which I’ll cover once an in-press paper sees publication.” [Looking forward to seeing some short-necked azhdarchids, which I cannot imagine.]

Naish reports, “One of my personal highlights of the meeting was Mike Habib’s talk on plunge diving and surface foraging in Pteranodon and other pterosaurs. If you’ve been paying attention you might know that there’s been serious consideration for a while now that pteranodontids and other oceanic pterosaurs may well have been capable of plunging and even foraging beneath the surface (e.g., Bennett 1994, Witton 2013). Mike’s quantitative work on biomechanics shows that all of those ideas about pteranodontids being too light or too fragile or too wingy or whatever to perform in, on and under water are probably nonsense. The maths for water launching works out (Habib & Cunningham 2010) and the skeleton could easily withstand impact with water, more so if we postulate a subdermal air sac system like that in some plunge-diving seabirds (like gannets). There are, of course, energetic limits on water-launching, and these might have imposed a size constraint on marine pterosaurs.” [We looked at plunge diving in Germanodactylus earlier here.]




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