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      Ecologically distinct dinosaurian sister group shows early diversification of Ornithodira

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          Abstract

          The early evolutionary history of Ornithodira (avian-line archosaurs) has hitherto been documented by incomplete (Lagerpeton) or unusually specialized forms (pterosaurs and Silesaurus). Recently, a variety of Silesaurus-like taxa have been reported from the Triassic period of both Gondwana and Laurasia, but their relationships to each other and to dinosaurs remain a subject of debate. Here we report on a new avian-line archosaur from the early Middle Triassic (Anisian) of Tanzania. Phylogenetic analysis places Asilisaurus kongwe gen. et sp. nov. as an avian-line archosaur and a member of the Silesauridae, which is here considered the sister taxon to Dinosauria. Silesaurids were diverse and had a wide distribution by the Late Triassic, with a novel ornithodiran bauplan including leaf-shaped teeth, a beak-like lower jaw, long, gracile limbs, and a quadrupedal stance. Our analysis suggests that the dentition and diet of silesaurids, ornithischians and sauropodomorphs evolved independently from a plesiomorphic carnivorous form. As the oldest avian-line archosaur, Asilisaurus demonstrates the antiquity of both Ornithodira and the dinosaurian lineage. The initial diversification of Archosauria, previously documented by crocodilian-line archosaurs in the Anisian, can now be shown to include a contemporaneous avian-line radiation. The unparalleled taxonomic diversity of the Manda archosaur assemblage indicates that archosaur diversification was well underway by the Middle Triassic or earlier.

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          Superiority, competition, and opportunism in the evolutionary radiation of dinosaurs.

          The rise and diversification of the dinosaurs in the Late Triassic, from 230 to 200 million years ago, is a classic example of an evolutionary radiation with supposed competitive replacement. A comparison of evolutionary rates and morphological disparity of basal dinosaurs and their chief "competitors," the crurotarsan archosaurs, shows that dinosaurs exhibited lower disparity and an indistinguishable rate of character evolution. The radiation of Triassic archosaurs as a whole is characterized by declining evolutionary rates and increasing disparity, suggesting a decoupling of character evolution from body plan variety. The results strongly suggest that historical contingency, rather than prolonged competition or general "superiority," was the primary factor in the rise of dinosaurs.
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            A beaked herbivorous archosaur with dinosaur affinities from the early Late Triassic of Poland

             Jerzy Dzik (2003)
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              Early dinosaurs: A phylogenetic study

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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Nature
                Nature
                Springer Science and Business Media LLC
                0028-0836
                1476-4687
                March 2010
                March 2010
                : 464
                : 7285
                : 95-98
                Article
                10.1038/nature08718
                20203608
                © 2010

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