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      A Short-Snouted, Middle Triassic Phytosaur and its Implications for the Morphological Evolution and Biogeography of Phytosauria

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          Abstract

          Following the end-Permian extinction, terrestrial vertebrate diversity recovered by the Middle Triassic, and that diversity was now dominated by reptiles. However, those reptilian clades, including archosaurs and their closest relatives, are not commonly found until ~30 million years post-extinction in Late Triassic deposits despite time-calibrated phylogenetic analyses predicting an Early Triassic divergence for those clades. One of these groups from the Late Triassic, Phytosauria, is well known from a near-Pangean distribution, and this easily recognized clade bears an elongated rostrum with posteriorly retracted nares and numerous postcranial synapomorphies that are unique compared with all other contemporary reptiles. Here, we recognize the exquisitely preserved, nearly complete skeleton of Diandongosuchus fuyuanensis from the Middle Triassic of China as the oldest and basalmost phytosaur. The Middle Triassic age and lack of the characteristically-elongated rostrum fill a critical morphological and temporal gap in phytosaur evolution, indicating that the characteristic elongated rostrum of phytosaurs appeared subsequent to cranial and postcranial modifications associated with enhanced prey capture, predating that general trend of morphological evolution observed within Crocodyliformes. Additionally, Diandongosuchus supports that the clade was present across Pangea, suggesting early ecosystem exploration for Archosauriformes through nearshore environments and leading to ease of dispersal across the Tethys.

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          Most cited references 63

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          The Permo–Triassic extinction

           Douglas Erwin (1994)
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            Diversification and extinction in the history of life.

             M Benton (1995)
            Analysis of the fossil record of microbes, algae, fungi, protists, plants, and animals shows that the diversity of both marine and continental life increased exponentially since the end of the Precambrian. This diversification was interrupted by mass extinctions, the largest of which occurred in the Early Cambrian, Late Ordovician, Late Devonian, Late Permian, Early Triassic, Late Triassic, and end-Cretaceous. Most of these extinctions were experienced by both marine and continental organisms. As for the periodicity of mass extinctions, no support was found: Seven mass extinction peaks in the last 250 million years are spaced 20 to 60 million years apart.
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              Ecologically distinct dinosaurian sister group shows early diversification of Ornithodira.

              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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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Sci Rep
                Sci Rep
                Scientific Reports
                Nature Publishing Group
                2045-2322
                10 April 2017
                2017
                : 7
                Affiliations
                [1 ]Department of Geosciences, 4044 Derring Hall, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University , Blacksburg, Virginia, 24061, USA
                [2 ]Zhejiang Museum of Natural History, 6 Westlake Culture Square, Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province 310014, China
                [3 ]Canadian Museum of Nature , P.O. Box 3443, Station “D”, Ottawa, ON K1P 6P4, Canada
                [4 ]Laboratory of Evolutionary Systematics of Vertebrates, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences , P.O. Box 643, Beijing 100044, P. R. China
                Author notes
                Article
                srep46028
                10.1038/srep46028
                5385495
                28393843
                Copyright © 2017, The Author(s)

                This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in the credit line; if the material is not included under the Creative Commons license, users will need to obtain permission from the license holder to reproduce the material. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

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