another paper that was improperly vetted (refereed). I heard about this one on NPR when co-author Richard Butler was interviewed by the BBC.
Nesbitt et al. 2017
report: “The relationship between dinosaurs and other reptiles is well established (1–4,) but the sequence of acquisition of dinosaurian features has been obscured by the scarcity of fossils with transitional morphologies.”
We’re in trouble from the opening salvo.
The large reptile tree (LRT) does not recover the same tree topology as these authors hypothesize (Fig. 1). And the sequence of dinosaurian features is not obscured in the LRT. There are plenty of fossils with transitional morphologies. Unfortunately, these authors either chose to ignore them or scored them haphazardly. Based on the theory that evolution happens with small changes the Nesbitt et al. tree topology (Fig. 1) is completely bonkers, adding unrelated taxa while excluding pertinent sisters to Teleocrater (here labeled under its new clade, Aphanosauria).
Figure 1. Aphanosauria according to Nesbitt et al. 2017. Two of these clades are unrelated to archosaurs. Marasuchus IS a dinosaur. Silesaurus is a poposaur more distantly related to dinos than crocs. Where are the crocs?
Nesbitt et al. report:
“Here we describe one of the stratigraphically lowest and phylogenetically earliest members of the avian stem lineage (Avemetatarsalia), Teleocrater rhadinus gen. et sp. nov., from the Middle Triassic epoch.” There is no such thing as an avian stem lineage. Avemetarsalia includes pterosaurs and dinosaurs, so it is a junior synonym for Reptilia in the LRT. The closest ancestors to dinosaurs were bipedal basal crocodylomorphs in the LRT. I don’t see them in figure 1.
NHMUK (Natural History Museum, London, UK) PV R6795, a disassociated skeleton of one individual, including: cervical, trunk, and caudal vertebrae, partial pectoral and pelvic girdles, partial forelimb and hind limbs.
Elements found near the holotype, but from other individuals, which represent most of the skeleton and that are derived from a paucispecific bone bed containing at least three individuals.
Figure 2. The chimaera created by several specimens attributed to Teleocrater. Even if all these piece do fit together like Nesbitt et al. indicate, Teleocrater is closer to Yarasuchus and Ticinosuchus than it is to the last common ancestor of Archosauria. See figure 3.
The specimens that produced this reconstruction (Fig. 2)
are all associated. So there is great confidence that all of the bones are conspecific. The problem, once again, is taxon exclusion, and maybe a large dose of bad scoring (see below)
Figure 3. Teleocrater to scale compared with likely sister taxa among the Ticinosuchidae in the LRT. Note the resemblance of the Teleocerater maxilla to that of these sister taxa.
the authors report that “Osteoderms are not preserved and were probably absent.” And yet their reconstruction (Fig. 2) has osteoderms in the black outline. What bias is present here?
the authors report, “Our phylogenetic analyses recovered Teleocrater in a clade containing Yarasuchus, Dongusuchus and Spondylosoma.” And yet they did not include Yarasuchus in their phylogenetic figure (Fig. 1). The latter two are know from scraps. Yarasuchus (Fig. 3) is much more complete.
Problems with the Nesbitt et al. 2017 cladogram
- The outgroup for Prolacerta + Archosauriformes (Proterosuchus) is the unrelated lepidosaur, Mesosuchus.
- The unrelated thalattosaur, Vancleavea, nests between Erythrosuchus and the unrelated chanaresuchid, Tropidosuchus. None of these taxa even look alike!
- The Yarasuchus clade, and before it the Parasuchus clade gives rise to the pterosaurs Dimorphodon + Eudimorphodon and another chanaresuchid, Lagerpeton, both purportedly in the lineage of dinosaurs. These are all actors pretending to be relatives. How is this possible that Nesbitt et al, and the referees and editors at Nature are not raising objections to this? This is total madness at the highest levels.
Need I go on???
Why is Teleocrater big news? Because the authors positioned it as an ancestor to dinosaurs. It may be, but it is buried deep, deep, deep in the lineage. Why was the relationship with Yarasuchus buried? You know why… it’s not as ‘sexy’ to the press.
Nesbitt et al. report, “Aphanosauria…is the sister taxon of Ornithodira (pterosaurs and birds) and shortens the ghost lineage inferred at the base of Avemetatarsalia.” Surprised to see they didn’t say, ‘pterosaurs and Tyrannosaurus rex.’
Folks, it’s all showmanship.
I’m sure the authors have all toasted their new paper in Nature by now. I hate seeing the subject of evolution twisted, torn and laid bare like this.
The real importance of Teleocrater
is its basal position in a clade I earlier called Ticinosuchidae, arising from basal rauisuchians, like Vjushkovia, giving rise to a wide variety of taxa like Aetosaurus and Arizonasaurus) while also giving rise to Decuriasuchus, which gave rise to poposaurs, like Turfanosuchus, and archosaurs, thus ultimately including dinosaurs.
Nesbitt SJ et al. (10 co-authors) 2017. The earliest bird-line archosaurs and the assembly of the dinosaur body plan. Nature doi:10.1038/nature22037. (online pdf)
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