Yesterday we looked at Baron et al. 2017, who proposed uniting Ornithischia with Theropoda to the exclusion of Sauropodomorpha + Herrerasaurus and kin (Fig. 1), among several other relationships not recovered by the large reptile tree (LRT, 980 taxa). They did so by excluding dinosaur outgroup taxa recovered by the LRT, like Gracilisuchus and Pseudhesperosuchus, while including inappropriate outgroup taxa, like pterosaurs, Lagerpeton and kin, and poposaurs, like Silesaurus. In paleontology this is known as ‘cherry-picking’ and yesterday’s post showed how cherry-picking outgroup taxa, like the pterosaur Dimorphodon, can lead to having scansoriopterygid basal birds recovered as basal dinosaurs. Baron et al. did this by focusing on, and mis-scoring minute traits, not readily visible from an arm’s length of viewing. See below.
the LRT provides a very long list of candidate outgroup taxa going back to Devonian tetrapods and lets the computer decide the topology of the reptile family tree including the Dinosauria. It thereby minimizes a priori bias and subjective or traditional opinion in taxon selection. The LRT also employs more readily observable traits and few to no minutia. The LRT is fully resolved with high Bootstap scores, in contrast to the Baron et al. trees.
Today we’ll dive deeper into Baron et al. 2017
They start with a false premise by supporting the clade ‘Ornithodira‘, which is a junior synonym for Reptilia, since it includes pterosaurs. In the LRT pterosaurs share a last common ancestor with dinosaurs in the Devonian amniote Tulerpeton, the last (and only) known common ancestor of all reptiles.
Baron et al. report, “A formal hypothesis proposing dinosaur monophyly was proposed in 1974, and consolidated in the 1980s. As a direct result of these and other analyses, Ornithischia and Saurischia came to be regarded as monophyletic sister-taxa: this hypothesis of relationships has been universally accepted ever since.” Not in the LRT, which recovered evidence in 2011 to support a clade Phytodinosauria, uniting Sauropodomorpha with Ornithischia + several basal phytodinosaur genera.
Baron et al. report, “No studies on early dinosaur relationships have included an adequate sample of early ornithischians and the majority of studies have also excluded pivotal taxa from other major dinosaur and dinosauromorph (near dinosaur) lineages.” The LRT did so include more than an adequate sample of all pertinent taxa.
Baron et al. report, “In order to examine the possible effects of these biases on our understanding of dinosaur evolution, we carried out a phylogenetic analysis of basal Dinosauria and Dinosauromorpha and compiled, to our knowledge, the largest and most comprehensive dataset of these taxa to date.” No, the LRT is larger and more comprehensive. It is under the authority of the LRT that mistakes can be revealed in the Baron et al. study.
Baron et al. report, ‘Although this study has drawn upon numerous previous studies, no prior assumptions were made about correlated patterns of character evolution or dinosaur interrelationships.” Not true. Their exclusion of appropriate and inclusion of inappropriate taxa demonstrates their assumptions. By this statement they appear to have fooled themselves as well, based on the taxon list of the the LRT.
Baron et al. report, “We analysed a wide range of dinosaurs and dinosauromorphs, including representatives of all known dinosauromorph clades.” Not true. They did not include dinosaur outgroup taxa recovered by the LRT (Fig. 2).
Figure 1. According to Baron et al. 2017 these taxa are related in this fashion. The LRT does not recover these relationships.
Here is the ‘meat’ of todays post:
Baron et al. report, “The formation of the clade Ornithoscelida [Ornithischia + Theropoda] is strongly supported by 21 unambiguous synapomorphies including: [comments follow]
- an anterior premaxillary foramen located on the inside of the narial fossa [present in basal sauropodomorphs Leyesaurus and Pampadromaeus.]
- a sharp longitudinal ridge on the lateral surface of the maxilla [present in basal sauropodomorph Pantydraco.]
- a jugal that is excluded from the margin of the antorbital fenestra by the lacrimal–maxilla bone contact (this appears convergently in some ‘massospondylids’) [not excluded in Tawa or Coelophysis.]
- an anteroventrally oriented quadrate [seemingly all dinosaurs have this sort of quadrate orientation]
- short and deep (length of more than twice the dorsoventral height) par occipital processes [apparently a mistake because the figure 2 caption text lists, “elongate par occipital processes.”]
- a post-temporal foramen that is entirely enclosed within the par occipital process [I cannot check this minutia with available data]
- a supraoccipital that is taller than it is wide [I cannot check this minutia with available data]
- a well-developed ventral recess on the parabasisphenoid [I cannot check this minutia with available data]
- a surangular foramen positioned posterolaterally on the surangular [I cannot check this minutia with available data]
- an entirely posteriorly oriented retroarticularprocess, which lacks any substantial distal upturn [present in basal sauropodomorph Pantydraco.]
- at least one dorsosacral vertebra anterior to the primordial pair [I cannot check this with available data]
- neural spines of proximal caudals that occupy less than half the length of the neural arches (which are also present in some sauropodomorphs, but absent in Herrerasauridae, Guaibasaurus, and nearly all sauropodomorphs as or more derived than Plateosaurus [it doesn’t matter about derived taxa, we’re looking only at basal taxa, this is a variable trait not present on Scuttelosaurus, but present on Efraasia]
- scapula blade more than three times the distal width (also found in Guaibasaurus) [also found in Herrerasaurus and Sajjuansaurus]
- humeral shaft that has an extensively expanded ventral portion of the proximal end, creating a distinct bowing (convergently acquired in plateosaurids and more derived sauropodomorphs) [sounds like a deltopectoral crest, If so, this is universal among Dinosauria]
- absence of a medioventral acetabular flange (which was also lost in plateosaurids and more derived sauropodomorphs) [unable to check this minutia with available data]
- a straight femur, without a sigmoidal profile (which was also acquired by more derived sauropodomorphs, but absent in basal forms such as Saturnalia and Pampadromaeus, and is also absent in Herrerasauridae) [also absent in Eoraptor, present in Pantydraco]
- a well-developed anterior trochanter that is broad and at least partly separated from the shaft of the femur [absent in Eodromaeus and otherwise difficult to check with available data]
- a strongly reduced fibular facet on the astragalus [unable to check this minutia with available data]
- a transversely compressed calcaneum with reduced posterior projection and medial process [unable to check this minutia with available data]
- a first metatarsal that does not reach the ankle joint, but that is instead attached ventrally to the shaft of metatarsal II [not in Tawa, Scelidosaurus or Haya]
- fusion of the distal tarsals to the proximal ends of the metatarsals.[not in Tawa, Scelidosaurus or Haya]
several of these ‘traits’ are minutia. The LRT uses larger traits that one can see and measure from a greater viewing distance or with published figures.
According to Baron et al.
other shared features uniting Ornithischia with Theropoda included: [comments again follow]
- a diastema between the premaxillary and maxillary tooth rows of at least one tooth crown’s length [not in Eodromaeus, Emausaurus]
- an extended contact between the quadratojugal and the squamosal bones [not in a wide variety of ornithischians]
- an anterior tympanic recess (convergently acquired in Plateosaurus) [unable to check this minutia with available data]
- a fibular crest on the lateral side of the proximal portion of the tibia (described as present in Eoraptor, although we could not confirm its presence, which is also absent in Tawa [unable to check this minutia with available data]
- an oblique articular end of the tibia in which the outer malleolus extends further distally than the inner malleolus (although this appears to be absent in Pisanosaurus [unable to check this minutia with available data]
- fusion of the sacral neural spines [unable to check this minutia with available data, often hidden by the pelves]
- presence of an antitrochanter on the ilium [unable to check this minutia with available data]
- reduction of the distal end of the fibula [not in Buriolestes, Tawa, Scelidosaurus]
- fusion of the tibia, fibula and proximal tarsals into a tibiotarsus [not in Buriolestes, Tawa, Scelidosaurus]
- fusion of the metatarsals [not in Buriolestes, Tawa, Scelidosaurus]
Apparently Baron et al. were not
thorough enough in these assessments and again depended for the most part, on minute traits rather than large, readily observable ones, Apparently referees were likewise not thorough enough on their vetting of this manuscript. I imagine because it is difficult to do when all the data is not gathered into a single readily reference resource, like RepitleEvolution.com. The present vetting took only a few hours.
According to Baron et al.
“20 additional steps would be needed to recover Saurischia as previously defined.” But that’s a false goal according to the LRT results that do not recover a clade Saurischia. And with such bad scoring (see above) this goal turns out to be a misstep, not a step.
Baron et al. report,
“in our hypothesis a fully carnivorous feeding strategy is not recovered as the plesiomorphic condition for Dinosauria and we are forced to interpret some of the anatomical similarities between herrerasaurids and theropods as convergences.” In the LRT, herrerasaurids are basal to all remaining dinosaurs, yet have certain autapomorphies that indicate an older, more plesiomorphic last common ancestor of all dinosaurs is awaiting discovery.
Baron et al. report,
“Dinosauria is recovered in a polytomy with Silesauridae and the enigmatic Late Triassic British taxon Saltopus elginensis.” In the LRT, both of those outgroups are surrounded by other taxa that separate them from Dinosauria.
Figure 2. The origin of dinosaurs to scale according to the LRT. Gray arrows show the direction of evolution. This image includes Decuriasuchus, Turfanosuchus, Gracilisuchus, Lewisuchus, Pseudhesperosuchus, Herrerasaurus, Tawa and Eoraptor.
Several years ago
the above (Fig. 2) was published online. It remains the best graphic portrayal of basal Dinosauria and their outgroups to date, based on a much larger number of outgroup taxa than has ever been published before. Unfortunately, the Baron et al. team did not take advantage of this readily available and thoroughly verified hypothesis.
Baron MG, Norman DB, Barrett PM 2017. A new hypothesis of dinosaur relationships and early dinosaur evolution. Nature 543:501–506.