The last common ancestor of all dinosaurs in the LRT: ?Buriolestes

Müller et al. 2018
describe a new dinosaur skeleton they attribute to Buriolestes shultzi (Cabreria et al. 2016, ULBRA-PVT280, Figs. 2, 3). In the large reptile tree (LRT, 2015 taxa; subset Fig. 1) the holotype now nests at the base of the Phytodinosauria. The referred specimen is different enough to nest between the herrerasaurs and all other dinosaurs. This, of course, removes herrerasaurs from the definition of the Dinosauria (Passer + Triceratops, their last common ancestor (= CAPPA/UFSM 0035) and all descendants).

Figure 1. Subset of the LRT including the new specimen of Buriolestes (CAPPA/UFSM 0035) nesting at the base of all dinosaurs.

Figure 1. Subset of the LRT including the new specimen of Buriolestes (CAPPA/UFSM 0035) nesting at the base of all dinosaurs.

 

Buriolestes schultzi (Cabreria et al. 2016; Late Triassic, Carnian; 230mya) was originally and later (Müller et al. 2018) considered a carnivorous sauropodomorph, but here two specimens nest as the basalmost dinosaur (CAPPA/UFSM 0035) and the basalmost phytodinosaur (ULBRA-PVT280).

Figure 2. The two skulls attributed to Buriolestes (holotype on the right). The one on the left nests as the basalmost dinosaur, basal to theropods and phytodinosaurs.

Figure 2. The two skulls attributed to Buriolestes (holotype on the right). The one on the left nests as the basalmost dinosaur, basal to theropods and phytodinosaurs. It should have a distinct name.

All cladograms agree that Buriolestes
is a very basal dinosaur. Taxon exclusion changes the tree topology of competing cladograms. The broad autapomorphic ‘eyebrow’ of the CAPPA specimen indicates it is a derived trait in this Late Triassic representative of an earlier genesis.

Figure 3. Herrerasaurus, Buriolestes and Tawa to scale.

Figure 3. Herrerasaurus, Buriolestes and Tawa to scale.

The Müller et al. cladogram
combined both specimens attributed to Buriolestes (never a good idea, but it happens all the time). The Müller et al. cladogram excluded a long list of basal bipedal crocodylomorpha, but did include Lewisuchus. It excluded the archosaur outgroups PVL 4597Turfanosuchus and Decuriasuchus. The Müller et al. cladogram nested Ornithischia basal to Saurischia (= Herrerasauridae + Agnophitys, Eodromaeus, Daemonosaurus + Theropoda + Sauropodomorpha) with Buriolestes nesting between Eoraptor and Panphagia. The CAPPA specimen of Buriolestes is also a sister to the basalmost theropod, Tawa (Fig. 3)… and not far from the other basal archosaur, Junggarsuchus (Fig. 4).

Figure 8. The CAPPA specimen of Buriolestes compared to the more primitive Junggarsuchus, basal to the other branch of archosaurs, the crocs.

Figure 4. The CAPPA specimen of Buriolestes compared to Junggarsuchus, basal to the other branch of archosaurs, the crocs.

References
Cabreira SF et al. (13 co-authors) 2016. A unique Late Triassic dinosauromorph assemblage reveals dinosaur ancestral anatomy and diet. Current Biology (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2016.09.040
Müller RT et al. (5 co-authors 2018. Early evolution of sauropodomorphs: anatomy and phylogenetic relationships of a remarkably well-preserved dinosaur from the Upper Triassic of southern Brazil. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, zly009 (advance online publication) doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/zoolinnean/zly009

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The assembly of the avian body plan (Cau 2018) pt. 1 of 3

Dr. Andrea Cau 2018 summarizes traditional knowledge
on the origin of birds breaking the process into three stages:

  1. Huxleyian stage: Early Triassic to Middle Jurassic the earliest ancestors of birds acquired postcranial pneumatisation, an obligate bipedal and digitigrade posture, the tridactyl hand and feather-like integument
  2. Ostromian stage: Middle to Late Jurassic is characterised by a higher evolutionary rate, the loss of hypercarnivory, the enlargement of the braincase, the dramatic reduction of the caudofemoral module, and the development of true pennaceous feathers.
  3. Marshian stage: Cretaceous. The transition to powered fl ight with the re-organisation of both forelimb and tail as fl ight-adapted organs and the full
    acquisition of the modern bauplan

This is a pretty good plan overall.
Unfortunately Dr. Cau uses an antiquated cladogram (Fig. 1) riddled with taxon exclusion (especially among the outgroups), so the details tend to get a little messed up. Let’s review the pluses and minuses.

Figure 1. The origin of birds cladogram according to Cau 2018. Taxon exclusion forces a mixup of basal taxa.

Figure 1. The origin of birds cladogram according to Cau 2018. Taxon exclusion forces a mixup of basal taxa.

The Cau cladogram and LRT
both feature many of the same basal theropods at the beginning, birds at derived nodes and a variety of carnivores in between, with dromaeosaurs then troodontids leading to birds.

Dr. Cau opens his paper
with several paragraphs devoted to nomenclature. He finds the term ‘non-avian’ particularly irksome. Cau employed 132 taxa and 1781 (1431 informative) characters. He reports that he decided not to include pterosaurs as outgroup taxa. That shows wisdom.

Unfortunately
Cau was not wise to largely ignore basal bipedal crocodylomorphs, including such favorites as Scleromochlus and Gracilisuchus. Thankfully Lewisuchus made his list.

So Cau starts off with four very distant outgroup taxa (Euparkeria, Teleocrator, Dormomeron and Lagerpeton), and that is never good (relevant taxon exclusion, again). It also shows a lack of understanding that could have been had with a quick glance at the large reptile tree (LRT, 1213 taxa). That’s what it’s there for.

Cau 2018 Results
3072 shortest trees (vs. LRT has one, fully resolved tree, last time I tested the whole tree).

Here are Cau’s nodes:

  1. Teleocrater + Dinosauromorpha: Unfortunately this clade does not include the Crocodylomorpha, so it is invalid. ‘Dinosauromorpha’, at best, is a junior synonym of Archosauria in the LRT.
  2. Dinosaurormorpha: (Lagerpetids + Dinosauriformes). Unfortunately this clade does not include the Crocodylomorpha, so it is invalid. When more taxa are added, lagerpetids nest with Tropidosuchus among the chanaresuchidae. Thus,  ‘Dinosauriformes’, at best, is a junior synonym of Archosauria in the LRT.
  3. Dinosauriformes: (Marasuchus + Dracohors). More taxa move Lewisuchus into the Crocodylomorpha, Silesaurus into the Poposauria and Pisanosaurus deep into the Phytodinosauria.
  4. Dracohors: (includes Megalosaurus, but not Marasuchus). More taxa (e.g. Segisaurus, Procompsognathus) move Marasuchus into the Theropoda and other taxa as listed above in the LRT.
  5. Dinosauria: (Eodromaeus, Herrerasauridae, Sauropodomorpha and Ornithoscelida). This is too many taxa and shows a lack of understanding. No basal dichotomy can be made. The LRT defines Dinosauria as Theropoda + Phytodinosauria, their last common ancestor (Herrerasaurus) and all descendants.
  6. Ornithoscelida: (Ornithischia + Theropoda) Adding more taxa will split up and invalidate this clade, based on LRT results.
  7. Theropoda: (Coelophysoidea + Averostra) In the LRT several theropods are listed as outgroups in the Cau analysis and it includes the phytodinosaur, Chilesaurus. (Daemonosaurus is curiously absent from this paper). Almost toothless Limusaurus should nest with oviraptorids. Elaphrosaurus has not been tested in the LRT. The basalmost coelophysoid (with feathers!), Sinocalliopteryx, nests as a derived compsognathid in the Cau taxon list.
  8. Averostra: (Ceratosauria + Tetaneurae) The LRT recovers a clade of large carnivores between Sinocalliopteryx and Compsognathus. This clade includes ProceratosaurusDeinocheirus, Xiongguanlong, Suchomimus and Spinosaurus, taxa not employed by Cau. These taxa attract Guanlong and Dilong to this basal feathered clade, away from tyrannosaurs. Otherwise, the LRT and Cau both place the same long list of medium to large basal theropods in clades at the base of this clade/grade.
Figure 1. Cladogram subset of the LRT focusing on Theropoda.

Figure 2. Cladogram subset of the LRT focusing on Theropoda.

More tomorrow.

References
Cau A 2018. The assembly of the avian body plan: a 160-million-year long process. Invited Paper, Bollettino della Societa Paleontologica Italiana 57(1):1–25.

 

Redefining what makes a dinosaur

Ran across this online article (citation below)
summarized: “The once-lengthy list of “definitely a dinosaur” features had already been dwindling over the past few decades thanks to new discoveries of close dino relatives such as Teleocrater. With an April 2017 report of Teleocrater’s skull depression (SN Online: 4/17/17), yet another feature was knocked off the list.”

Evidently the only trait that is still on the list is a perforated acetabulum.

My résponse:
long time readers will recognize this answer:

The dear departed Dr. Larry Martin used to play this game. He’d say ‘tell me a character you think defines a clade and I’ll give you an exception.’ In dinosaur pelves, ankylosaurs are the exception that do not have a perforated acetabulum. The lesson: You can’t define a clade by a single or a dozen character traits. 

You can define a clade using a cladogram. A cladogram uses hundreds of traits to recover relationships including “the last common ancestors and all of its descendants.” On that basis Dinosauria include Herrerasaurus at the base and the first dichotomy splits Theropoda from Phytodinosauria. The proximal outgroup is the Crocodylomorpha, basal members of which were small and bipedal, like early dinosaurs. That means Archosauria includes only dinos and crocs. Teleocrater is in the lineage of stem Archosauria. Unfortunately, prior workers excluded many relevant taxa, which is why they did not recover these relationships. Cladogram, links and more data here: 
The last few items on the dinosaur list:
  1. Until Teleocrater came along, only dinosaurs were known to have a deep depression at the top of the skull, an attachment site for some jaw muscles probably related to bite strength.
  2.  Dinosaurs and some other dinosauromorphs such as Silesaurus opolensis have an enlarged crest on the upper arm bone where muscles attached
  3. Along with dinosaurs, dinosauromorphs S. opolensis and Asilisaurus kongwe may have had epipophyses, bony projections at the back of the neck vertebrae.
  4. An extra (fourth) muscle attachment site, called a trochanter, at the point on the femur that meets the hip is also found in dinosauromorph Marasuchus lilloensis.

Sources: S.J. Nesbitt et al/Nature 2017; S.L. Brusatte et al/Earth-Science Reviews 2010

Taxon exclusion. Phylogenetic analysis. Yada-yada. 

References
https://www.sciencenews.org/article/new-fossils-are-redefining-what-makes-dinosaur

Nesbitt et al. 2017 The earliest bird-line archosaurs and the assemblof the dinosaur body plan. Nature (Teleocrater paper).

Dinosaur family tree: Langer et al. responds to Baron et al. 2017 in Nature

Earlier
Baron et al. revised the dinosaur family tree by uniting Ornithischia with Theropoda to the exclusion of Herrerasaurus + Sauropodomorpha. Then Baron and Barrett 2017 moved Chilesaurus (Fig. 1) from Theropoda to Ornithischia, confirming the earlier hypothesis advanced here in 2015, but in the context of uniting Ornithischia with Sauropodomorpha (= Phytodinosauria) to the exclusion of Herrerasaurus + Theropoda.

Figure 1. Chilesaurus and kin, including Damonosaurus and basal phytodinosauria.

Figure 1. Chilesaurus and kin, including Damonosaurus and basal phytodinosauria.

Today
Langer et al. 2017 argue, “we evaluate and reanalyse the morphological dataset underpinning the proposal by Baron et al.5 and provide quantitative biogeographic analyses, which challenge the key results of their study by recovering a classical monophyletic Saurischia and a Gondwanan origin for dinosaurs. Our international consortium of early dinosaur evolution specialists has come together to critically assess the Baron et al.5 dataset.”

The Langer team recovered a traditional Saurischia/Ornithischia tree, but noted it would take only 2-3 additional steps to enforce a Sauorpodomorpha/ Ornithoscelida split, as recovered by the Baron team – this after changing 2,500 scorings (10% of the dataset). The Langer team also confirmed the origin of dinos in southern Pangaea and left with three conclusions (my comments follow):

  1. There is currently great uncertainty about early dinosaur relationships and the basic structure of the dinosaur family tree. Not in the large reptile tree (LRT, 1119 taxa)/
  2. Dataset construction is key. No, taxon inclusion is the key. Neither the Baron team nor the Langer team included the correct outgroup taxa nor a long list of basal dinosaur taxa (see below) that direct the tree topology toward the phytodinosaur clade.
  3. It is important to use appropriate computational analytical tools before making macro-evolutionary claims. No, taxon exclusion will lead to wrong results. Trait selection matters, but not as much. Scoring correctly matters, but not as much. Employing decades old software does not matter because the math and statistics are the same. Remember, only a poor workman blames his tools so don’t  blame the “computational analytical tools” for poor macro-evolutionary claims.

Bottom line:
The Langer team used the same incomplete taxon list as the Baron et al. team did. So they were looking for their ‘keys’ beneath the bright lamp, while the keys were lost in the dark alley they ignored.

This happens so often.

And
Baron et al. 2017 reply. “This  extensive re-scoring results in recovery of the ‘traditional’ topology, although with less resolution and very weak support; their result is statistically indistinguishable from the possibility that our topology provides a better explanation of the data. This weak support, despite these extensive changes, suggests that the ‘traditional’ tree struggles to account for many character distributions.”

And they disagree with many of the re-scorings. Their re-scoring of just Pisanosaurus reproduced the clade Ornithoscelida in their revised tree.

Both presented trees were poorly resolved.
The LRT is fully resolved. Baron et al. defended the possibility of a Northern origin for dinosaurs. That big ‘maybe’ does not follow the data in the LRT.

On a similar, but side note
Biology Letters was kind enough to publish my reply to the Baron and Barret 2017 paper on Chilesaurus, but much of it has bearing for today’s discussion. Here is that letter in its entirety:

Baron and Bennett [1] nest Chilesaurus [2] as the sister group to Ornithischia, rather than a tetaneuran theropod as previously proposed [2]. Unfortunately, the Baron and Bennett [1] taxon list, like the Novas et al. [2] taxon list before it, did not include many of the taxa essential to resolve this issue.

A larger study of over 1060 taxa [3] includes more taxa essential to resolve this issue. The matrix was created using MacClade [4]. Analyses were run in PAUP 4.0b10 [5] using a heuristic search and a Bootstrap/Jackknife search for 100 random addition replicates. Scores are indicated on the webpage.

On that cladogram Chilesaurus (Late Jurassic) nests as a basal ornithischian in a clade that also includes Daemonosaurus (Late Triassic) and Jeholosaurus (Early Cretaceous). The latter two taxa were not included in Baron and Bennett [1]. This clade of three taxa nested as a sister to the Sauropodomorpha with Leyesaurus at its base. The analysis recovered the clade Phytodinosauria as the sister taxa to the Theropoda. Herrerasaurus was the outgroup to these two clades as basalmost member of the Dinosauria. Basal phytodinosaurs not nesting within Sauropodomorpha + Ornithischia include Barberenasuchus, Eodromaeus, Eoraptor and Pampadromaeus.

On that cladogram Silesaurus nests within a clade Poposauridae outside the Archosauria. The clade Archosauria includes only the Crocodylomorpha + the Dinosauria. Lagerpeton nests with Tropidosuchus and other proterochampsids. The pterosaur, Dimorphodon, nests with lepidosaurs like Huehuecuetzpalli, Macrocnemus and Cosesaurus (the last of which had an antorbital fenestra by convergence [6, 7]). None of these are archosauriformes nor prolacertiformes [contra 7]. The following pertinent taxa were not included in Baron and Bennett [1]: Daemonosaurus, Jeholosaurus, Haya, Barberenasuchus, Buriolestes, Segisaurus, Procompsognathus, PVL 4597, Junggarsuchus, Pseudhesperosuchus, Carnufex, Trialestes, Gracilisuchus, Scleromochlus, Decuriasuchus, Turfanosuchus, Poposaurus, Lotosaurus, Shuvosaurus, Effigia and Tropidosuchus.

Chilesaurus was first nested as a basal ornithischian in April 2015 [8] in an earlier version of the above analysis, then with fewer taxa. With the addition of more pertinent taxa the position of Chilesaurus is indeed well resolved contra the previous e-letter [9].

1.Baron M.G., Barrett P.M. 2017 A dinosaur missing-link? Chilesaurus and the early evolution of ornithischian dinosaurs. Biology Letters 13, 20170220.
2.Novas F.E., Salgado L., Suárez M., Agnolín F.L., Ezcurra M.D., Chimento N.R., de La Cruz R., Isasi M.P., Vargas A.O., Rubilar-Rogers D. 2015 An enigmatic plant-eating theropod from the Late Jurassic period of Chile. Nature 522(7556), 331.
3. http://www.ReptileEvolution.com/reptile-tree.htm .nex file link on that webpage
4.Maddison, D,R., & Maddison. W.P. 2001 MacClade 4.08: Analysis of Phylogeny and Character Evolution. Version 4.03. Sinauer Associates.
5. Swofford, D. 2002 PAUP 4.0 b10: Phylogenetic analysis using parsimony. Sinauer Associates.
6. Ellenberger, P. and de Villalta, J.F. 1974. Sur la presence d’un ancêtre probable des oiseaux dans le Muschelkalk supérieure de Catalogne (Espagne). Note preliminaire. Acta Geologica Hispanica 9, 162-168.
7. Peters D. 2000. A Redescription of Four Prolacertiform Genera and Implications for Pterosaur Phylogenesis. Rivista Italiana di Paleontologia e Stratigrafia 106 (3): 293–336.
8.https://pterosaurheresies.wordpress.com/2015/04/28/chilesaurus-new-dinos…
9. King B. 2017. Chilesaurus is not a basal ornithischian. http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/13/8/20170220.e-letters

References
Baron M.G., Barrett P.M. 2017 A dinosaur missing-link? Chilesaurus and the early evolution of ornithischian dinosaurs. Biology Letters 13, 20170220.
Baron MG, Norman DB and Barrett PM 2017.
xxxx Nature 543: 501–506;  doi:10.1038/nature21700
Baron MG, Norman DB and Barrett PM 2017. Baron et al. reply. Nature 551: doi:10.1038/nature24012
Langer et al. (8 co-authors) 2017. Untangling the dinosaur family tree. Nature 551: doi:10.1038/nature24011

Professor TR Holtz on Dinosaur Classification

An Albert Einstein anecdote is appropriate to today’s discussion. 
One of his students staood up 15 minutes into an exam saying, “The questions in this year’s exam are the same as last year’s exam.” Einstein replied, “Don’t worry; the answers are different this year.”

It’s got to be difficult telling students
how basal dinosaurs are related. The answers are different this year. Do they traditionally split into Saurischia and Ornithischia? Or do ornithischians nest with theropods, as Baron, Norman and Barrett 2017 proposed a few months ago. Or do they split into Theropoda and Phytodinosauria, as recovered here in the large reptile tree (LRT)?

Dr. Thomas R. Holtz (U of Maryland, PhD from Yale U) is often seen on TV and YouTube as a popularizer/explainer of all things dinosaur. Recently he uploaded a web page that showed several options for dinosaur and outgroup relations. This was part of his lecture series.

Holtz reports,
“Dinosauria is comprised of three major clades: Ornithischia, Sauropodomorpha, and Theropoda. Traditionally, sauropodomorphs and theropods were recognized to form a clade Saurischia. However, recent discoveries have reduced the support for this hypothesis, and alternative relationships are possible.”

Things would be easier and more logical
if Holtz knew the precise outgroup for the Dinosauria. Unfortunately he does not. He bought into the Avemetatarsalia hypothesis, when that was invalidated 17 years ago (Peters 2000).

In the LRT
Crocodylomorpha and Poposauridae are successively more distant outgroups to the Dinosauria. In Holtz’s view crocs are distantly related with a common ancestor close to Euparkeria. Pterosaurs, Lagerpeton, Lagosuchus and Silesaurus are closer relatives. In the LRT pterosaurs are lepidosaurs, Lagerpeton is a sister to Tropidosuchus and Lagosuchus is a theropod and Silesaurus is a poposaur.

Holtz also believes in the clade Ornithodira
even though that was also invalidated 17 years ago (Peters 2000). Holtz reports, “Unfortunately, at present we have no pterosaur-lineage animals which are not already highly derived for flight, so we can’t yet trace the transformations from walking to flying in this group.” This is wrong. Peters 2000 listed a half dozen taxa with a gradual accumulation of pterosaur traits, even when tested against archosaurs. The concept of the clade Ornithodira survives to this day due to taxon exclusion. And Peters exclusion, even published work in academic journals. Apparently no one wants to test what happens when various tritosaurs are entered into the taxon list.

Holtz believes that very small dinosaurormphs
left footprints in the Early Triassic. This was invalidated earlier here.

Holtz believes that dinsoauromorphs

  1. had a parasagittal stance with erect hind limbs, but several clades develop this
  2. had simple hinge ankle joints, but both mammals and tritosaur lepidosaurs had this
  3. had a digitigrade posture, but both mammals and tritosaur lepidosaurs had this

See what happens
when Holtz tries to pull a “Larry Martin“? Larry would have given the same answers with a wry smile. Holtz needs to base his conclusions on a large gamut phylogenetic analysis that considers all possible candidates, not a short list of convergent traits.

Holtz mentions Nyasasaurus
an incomplete taxa considered a Middle Triassic dinosaur. Here it compares well with the basal popoaur, Turfanosuchus, only much larger.

Phytodinosauria
Holtz reports, “No recent computer-generated phylogenetic analysis has supported [Phytodinosauria]. This is wrong. The LRT recovered the clade Phytodinosauria six years ago. Holtz also reports, “but possible support for this arrangement may exist in the enigmatic Chilesaurus.” Yes. And you heard that first here two years ago.

Holtz lists
several Late Triassic dinosaurs of uncertain position.

In the LRT
none of the taxa listed by Holtz nests in an uncertain position… and he would discover that, too, if he also ran a large gamut phylogenetic analysis. He has access to all the literature and specimens, more so than I do. Instead of leaving dinosaur origins as a big question for his students, Holtz could find out for himself and provide an unequivocal answer. This is science. Anyone can do it, whether PhD or independent researcher.

References
Baron MG, Barrett PM 2017. A dinosaur missing-link? Chilesaurus and the early evolution of ornithischian dinosaurs. Biol. Lett. 13: 20170220. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2017.0220 pdf online
Baron MG, Norman DB, Barrett PM 2017. A new hypothesis of dinosaur relationships and early dinosaur evolution. Nature 543:501–506.
Peters D 2000b. A reexamination of four prolacertiforms with implications for pterosaur phylogenesis. Rivista Italiana di Paleontologia e Stratigrafia 106: 293–336.

You heard it here first: Chilesaurus is a basal ornithischian confirmed.

Figure 1. Chilesaurus and kin, including Damonosaurus and basal phytodinosauria.

Figure 1. Chilesaurus and kin, including Damonosaurus and basal phytodinosauria.

Figure 2. Look familiar? Here are the pelves of Jeholosaurus and Chilesaurus compared. As discussed earlier, this is how the ornithischian pelvis evolved from that of Eoraptor and basal saurorpodomorpha.

Figure 2. Look familiar? Here are the pelves of Jeholosaurus and Chilesaurus compared. As discussed earlier, this is how the ornithischian pelvis evolved from that of Eoraptor and basal saurorpodomorpha.

A new paper by Baron and Barrett 2017 confirms Chilesaurus (Fig. 1) as a basal member of the Ornithischia, not a bizarre theropod. As long time readers know, this was put online two years ago (other links below) in this blog.

Unfortunately, the authors don’t have an understanding of the interrelationships of phytodinosaurs, even though they report, For example, Chilesauruspossesses features that appear ‘classically’ theropod-like, sauropodomorph-like and ornithischian-like…” Nor did they mention the sister taxon, Jeholosaurus (Fig. 2).

Remember,
discovery only happens once.
More on this topic later.

This note went out this morning:
Thank you, Matthew,
for the confirmation on Chilesaurus.
In this case, it would have been appropriate to include me as a co-author since I put this online two years ago.

https://pterosaurheresies.wordpress.com/2015/04/28/chilesaurus-new-dinosaur-not-so-enigmatic-after-all/
http://www.reptileevolution.com/reptile-tree.htm
http://www.reptileevolution.com/chilesaurus.htm

References
Baron MG, Barrett PM 2017. A dinosaur missing-link? Chilesaurus and the early evolution of ornithischian dinosaurs. Biol. Lett. 13: 20170220. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2017.0220 pdf online

Best regards,

What traits separate phytodinosaurs from theropods?

Yesterday we looked at the origin of dinosaurs in the context of and contra the recent Baron et al. 2017 paper. Today we’ll look at the basal split between basal phytodinosaurs, like Eodromaeus (Figs. 1, 2), with the closely related basal theropods, like Tawa (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. The theropod Tawa compared to the closely related phytodinosaur, Eodromaeus.

Figure 1. The theropod Tawa compared to the closely related smaller phytodinosaur, Eodromaeus.

Placed side-by-side to scale
Tawa and Eodromaeus are similar overall, though the plant-eaters were initially smaller. The details (below) demonstrate the initial steps toward herbivory that characterize the Phytodinosauria, distinct from the Theropoda and basal Dinosauria from which they evolved (contra Baron et al. 2017).

Figure 1. Eodromaeus reconstructed. We will look at this taxon in more detail tomorrow.

Figure 1. Eodromaeus reconstructed. We will look at this taxon in more detail tomorrow.

How do basal phytodinosaurs differ from the basal theropods?
Here’s the LRT list:

  1. lateral rostral shape: convex and smoothly curved (also in ancestral Herrerasaurus and Gracilisuchus);
  2. premaxilla/maxilla angle 25–45º;
  3. naris shape in lateral view almost round (not longer than tall or taller than long);
  4. postfrontal has no contact with the upper temporal fenestra;
  5. opisthotic oriented laterally without posttemporal fenestrae;
  6. palatal teeth (only on basalmost taxa);
  7. maxillary tooth depth ≤ 2x width in lateral view;
  8. last maxillary tooth at mid orbit (also in Herrerasaurus);
  9. olecranon process present (convergent in Buriolestes);
  10. metacarpals 2 and 3 align with m1.1 (except Eodromaeus);
  11. acetabulum laterally oriented (no ventral deflection, as in basal theropods);
  12. femoral head with neck and offset (appears later in theropods);
  13. penultimate manual phalanges not the longest in each series;
  14. loss of pubic boot (likely plesiomorphic because outgroups to Herrerasaurus do not have a pubic boot).

Summary and significance
Compared to the closely related theropod Tawa, the overall similar phytodinosaur Eodromaeus had a taller rounder rostrum, shorter teeth, a higher coronoid process, a longer dorsal region with more robust dorsal vertebrae, reduced gastralia, a more robust pectoral girdle and forelimb with shorter, less raptorial fingers, a deeper pubis and ischium with more robust hind limbs. The shorter teeth and larger belly together with the more robust limbs and back are traits seen in a wide variety of herbivores, even if only transitional at this early stage.

References
Baron MG, Norman DB, Barrett PM 2017. A new hypothesis of dinosaur relationships and early dinosaur evolution. Nature 543:501–506.