The ascendancy of dinosaurs on land near the close of the Triassic now appears to have been as accidental and opportunistic as their demise and replacement by therian mammals at the end of the Cretaceous. The dinosaurian radiation, launched by 1-meter-long bipeds, was slower in tempo and more restricted in adaptive scope than that of therian mammals. A notable exception was the evolution of birds from small-bodied predatory dinosaurs, which involved a dramatic decrease in body size. Recurring phylogenetic trends among dinosaurs include, to the contrary, increase in body size. There is no evidence for co-evolution between predators and prey or between herbivores and flowering plants. As the major land masses drifted apart, dinosaurian biogeography was molded more by regional extinction and intercontinental dispersal than by the breakup sequence of Pangaea.
Late Cretaceous (Cenomanian) fossils discovered in the Kem Kem region of Morocco include large predatory dinosaurs that inhabited Africa as it drifted into geographic isolation. One, represented by a skull approximately 1.6 meters in length, is an advanced allosauroid referable to the African genus Carcharodontosaurus. Another, represented by a partial skeleton with slender proportions, is a new basal coelurosaur closely resembling the Egyptian genus Bahariasaurus. Comparisons with Cretaceous theropods from other continents reveal a previously unrecognized global radiation of carcharodontosaurid predators. Substantial geographic differentiation of dinosaurian faunas in response to continental drift appears to have arisen abruptly at the beginning of the Late Cretaceous.
Systematists have questioned the distinction between characters and character states and their alignment with the traditional concept of homology. Previous definitions for character and character state show surprising variation. Here it is concluded that characters are simply features expressed as independent variables and character states the mutually exclusive conditions of a character. Together, characters and character states compose what are here termed character statements. Character statements are composed of only four fundamental functional components here identified as locator, variable, variable qualifier, and character state, and these components exist in only two patterns, neomorphic and transformational. Several controversies in character coding and the use of ''absent'' as a character state are understood here as a consequence of incomplete character statements and the inappropriate mixing of neomorphic and transformational character statements. Only a few logically complete patterns for morphological character data exist; their adoption promises to greatly reduce current variability in character data between analyses.
Fossils of the Early Cretaceous dinosaur, Nigersaurus taqueti, document for the first time the cranial anatomy of a rebbachisaurid sauropod. Its extreme adaptations for herbivory at ground-level challenge current hypotheses regarding feeding function and feeding strategy among diplodocoids, the larger clade of sauropods that includes Nigersaurus. We used high resolution computed tomography, stereolithography, and standard molding and casting techniques to reassemble the extremely fragile skull. Computed tomography also allowed us to render the first endocast for a sauropod preserving portions of the olfactory bulbs, cerebrum and inner ear, the latter permitting us to establish habitual head posture. To elucidate evidence of tooth wear and tooth replacement rate, we used photographic-casting techniques and crown thin sections, respectively. To reconstruct its 9-meter postcranial skeleton, we combined and size-adjusted multiple partial skeletons. Finally, we used maximum parsimony algorithms on character data to obtain the best estimate of phylogenetic relationships among diplodocoid sauropods. Nigersaurus taqueti shows extreme adaptations for a dinosaurian herbivore including a skull of extremely light construction, tooth batteries located at the distal end of the jaws, tooth replacement as fast as one per month, an expanded muzzle that faces directly toward the ground, and hollow presacral vertebral centra with more air sac space than bone by volume. A cranial endocast provides the first reasonably complete view of a sauropod brain including its small olfactory bulbs and cerebrum. Skeletal and dental evidence suggests that Nigersaurus was a ground-level herbivore that gathered and sliced relatively soft vegetation, the culmination of a low-browsing feeding strategy first established among diplodocoids during the Jurassic.
Upper Triassic rocks in northwestern Argentina preserve the most complete record of dinosaurs before their rise to dominance in the Early Jurassic. Here, we describe a previously unidentified basal theropod, reassess its contemporary Eoraptor as a basal sauropodomorph, divide the faunal record of the Ischigualasto Formation with biozones, and bracket the formation with (40)Ar/(39)Ar ages. Some 230 million years ago in the Late Triassic (mid Carnian), the earliest dinosaurs were the dominant terrestrial carnivores and small herbivores in southwestern Pangaea. The extinction of nondinosaurian herbivores is sequential and is not linked to an increase in dinosaurian diversity, which weakens the predominant scenario for dinosaurian ascendancy as opportunistic replacement.
Fossils discovered in Lower Cretaceous (Aptian) rocks in the Ténéré Desert of central Niger provide new information about spinosaurids, a peculiar group of piscivorous theropod dinosaurs. The remains, which represent a new genus and species, reveal the extreme elongation and transverse compression of the spinosaurid snout. The postcranial bones include blade-shaped vertebral spines that form a low sail over the hips. Phylogenetic analysis suggests that the enlarged thumb claw and robust forelimb evolved during the Jurassic, before the elongated snout and other fish-eating adaptations in the skull. The close phylogenetic relationship between the new African spinosaurid and Baryonyx from Europe provides evidence of dispersal across the Tethys seaway during the Early Cretaceous.
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