The most basal mammal in the LRT: Megazostrodon

I thought for many years
that Megazostrodon was known from only a fragment of skull, lacking both the anterior and posterior parts.

Then somehow this paper popped up on the Internet
Gow 1986 illustrated the skull of Megazostrodon (Fig. 1; BPI/1/4983; Crompton & Jenkins, 1968; Latest Triassic; 200 mya). Even without this skull data the large reptile tree (LRT, 1293 taxa) nested Megazostrodon at the base of the Mammalia. There is little  argument among paleontologists that this taxon is a close sister to the last common ancestor of all living mammals.

Often wrongly associated
with Morganucodon, the two are phylogenetically separated from one another by tiny Hadrocodium in the LRT. In Megazostrodon the zygomatic arch is straight (without the ascending arch). The skull lacks a sagittal crest.  As in modern marsupials, carnivores, primates and tree shrews the teeth have a standard incisor, canine, premolar and molar appearance. The permanent molars occlude precisely. Uniquely (as far as I know), the dentary has a coronoid boss and a coronoid process.

Figure 1. Megazostrodon skull in several views. Drawings from Gow 1986. Colors applied here.

Figure 1. Megazostrodon skull in several views. Drawings from Gow 1986. Colors applied here. The upper molars are worn down.

The large reptile tree
(Fig. 2) presents a simple, validated topology of mammals and their ancestors based on hundreds of traits, very few of them dental. It differs in nearly every regard from the Close et al. 2015 study, which employs many dental taxa.

Figure 1. Subset of the LRT focusing on the Kynodontia and Mammalia. Non-eutherian taxa in red were tested in the LRT but not included because they reduce resolution. Eutherian taxa in red include a basal pangolin and derived xenarthran, clades that extend beyond the bottom of this graphic. The pink clade proximal to mammals was considered mammalian by Lautenschlager et al. due to a convergent mammalian-type jaw joint.

Figure 3. Subset of the LRT focusing on the Kynodontia and Mammalia. Non-eutherian taxa in red were tested in the LRT but not included because they reduce resolution. Eutherian taxa in red include a basal pangolin and derived xenarthran, clades that extend beyond the bottom of this graphic. The pink clade proximal to mammals was considered mammalian by Lautenschlager et al. due to a convergent mammalian-type jaw joint.

The first time I reconstructed Megazostrodon
(Fig. 4) the skull looked legit, and was approved by cynodont expert Jim Hopson, but it had some problems. I’m glad to finally get better data on this, that resolves scoring problems around this node.

Figure 1. Megazostrodon, an early mammal, along with Hadrocodium, a Jurassic tiny mammal.

Figure 4. Megazostrodon, an a Jurassic mammal, along with Hadrocodium, a Jurassic tiny mammal. The Megazostrodon skull shown here is not correct.

On a side note:
Wikipedia reports,Tinodon (Marsh 1887; YMP11843) is an extinct genus of Late Jurassic mammal from the Morrison Formation. It is of uncertain affinities, being most recently recovered as closer to therians than eutriconodonts but less so than allotherians.” 

Figure 1. Tinodon is best represented by an incomplete mandible with affinities to basal mammals.

Figure 5. Tinodon is best represented by an incomplete mandible with affinities to basal mammals and basal metatherians. Image from Morphobank.

 

Too few characters are present here
to add it to the large reptile tree, but if I have restored the missing parts correctly, then it is close to the base of the Mammalia and Theria near Megazostrodon.

References
Close RA, Friedman M. Lloyd GT and Benson RBJ 2015. Evidence for a mid-Jurassic adaptive radiation in mammals. Current Biology. 25 (16): 2137–2142. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2015.06.047PMID 26190074.
Crompton AW and Jenkins FA Jr 1968. Molar occlusion in late Triassic mammals, Biological Review, 43 1968:427-458.
Gow CE 1986. A new skull of Megazostrodon ( Mammalia, Triconodonta) from the Elliot Formation (Lower Jurassic) of Southern Africa. Palaeontologia Africana 26(2):13–22.
Marsh OC 1887. American Jurassic mammals. The American Journal of Science, series 3 33(196):327-348

wiki/Megazostrodon

 

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