Tiny Abdalodon: a basal cynodont, drags in Lycosuchus

Today’s blogpost returns to basal Therapsida,
after several years of ignoring this clade.

Kammerer 2016 reidentifies an old Procynosuchus skull 
as an even more basal cynodont, now named Abdalodon (Fig. 1). The problem is: cynodonts arise from basal theriodonts (Therocephalia) and Abdalodon nests with another flat-head taxon, Lycosuchus (Fig. 1), a traditional therocephalian in every other cladogram, but not the Therapsid Skull Tree (TST, 67 skull-only taxa, Fig. 2), a sister cladogram to the LRT.

So, where is the cynodont dividing line?
(= which tested taxon is the progenitor of all later cynodonts and mammals?)

It would help if we knew the phylogenetic definition
of Cynodontia because we should never go by traits (which may converge), but only by taxon + taxon + their last common ancestor and all descendants to determine monophyletic clades.

From the Kammerer 2016 abstract:
“Phylogenetic analysis recovers Abdalodon as the sister‐taxon of Charassognathus, forming a clade (Charassognathidae fam. nov.) at the base of Cynodontia. These taxa represent a previously unrecognized radiation of small‐bodied Permian cynodonts. Despite their small size, the holotypes of Abdalodon and Charassognathus probably represent adults and indicate that early evolution of cynodonts may have occurred at small body size, explaining the poor Permian fossil record of the group.”

Figure 1. Abdalodon nests with the many times larger therocephalian Lycosuchus in the LRT.

Figure 1. Abdalodon nests with the many times larger therocephalian Lycosuchus in the LRT.

Hopson and Kitching 2001 defined  Cynodontia
(Fig. 2) as the most inclusive group containing Mammalia, but excluding Bauria. In the TT Abdalodon nests with Lycosuchus on the cynodont side of Bauria.

Figure 4. TST revised with new data on Patranomodon and sister taxa.

Figure 4. TST revised with new data on Patranomodon and sister taxa.

So that makes Lycosuchus a cynodont,
by definition.

Figure 2. Procynosuchus, a basal cynodont therapsid synapsid sister to humans in the large reptile tree (prior to the addition of advanced cynodonts including mammals).

Figure 3. Procynosuchus, a basal cynodont therapsid synapsid sister to humans in the large reptile tree (prior to the addition of advanced cynodonts including mammals). This skull has been overinflated dorsoventrally based on the preserved skull, which everyone must have thought was crushed in that dimension.

Earlier we looked at
some Wikipedia writers when they stated, “Exactly where the border between reptile-like amphibians (non-amniote reptiliomorphs) and amniotes lies will probably never be known, as the reproductive structures involved fossilize poorly…” 

Contra that baseless assertion,
with phylogenetic analysis and clades defined by taxa it is easy to determine which taxa are the last common ancestors, sisters to the progenitors of every derived clade in the TT, LRT or LPT. We can tell exactly which taxon was the first to lay amniotic eggs, without having direct evidence of eggs, simply because all of its ancestors in the LRT laid amniotic eggs. In the same way, we can figure out which taxon, among those tested, is the basalmost cynodont. Adding Bauria to the LRT made that happen today.

Let’s talk about size
The extreme size difference between Abdalodon and Lycosuchus (Fig. 1) brings up the possibility of cynodonts going through a phylogenetic size squeeze… retaining juvenile traits into adulthood… neotony… essentially becoming sexually mature at a tiny size for more rapid reproduction, reduced food needs, ease in finding shelters, etc. We’ve seen that before in several clades here, here and here, to name a few.

Figure 4. Charassognathus does not share more traits with Abdalodon than other taxa, like Bauria and Promoschorhynchops in the TT.

Figure 4. Charassognathus does not share more traits with Abdalodon than other taxa, like Bauria and Promoschorhynchops in the TT.

Kammerer 2016 mentioned another small taxon,
Charassognathus (Fig. 4). In the TST (Fig. 2) Charassognathus nests with Bauria and Promoschorhynchops, within the Therocephalia, distinct from, and not far from Abdalodon and the Cynodontia. So no confirmation here for Kammerer’s proposed clade, ‘Charassognathidae’ (see above).


References
Hopson JA and Kitching JW 2001. A Probainognathian Cynodont from South Africa and the Phylogeny of Nonmammalian Cynodonts” pp 5-35 in: Parish A, et al.  editors, Studies in Organismic and Evolutionary biology in honor of A. W. Crompton. Bullettin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology. Harvard University 156(1).
Kammerer CF 2016. A new taxon of cynodont from the Tropidostoma Assemblage Zone (upper Permian) of South Africa, and the early evolution of Cynodontia. Papers in Palaeontology 2(3): 387–397. https://doi.org/10.1002/spp2.1046

wiki/Bauria
wiki/Abdalodon
wiki/Lycosuchus

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