Osteology of the Late Jurassic Portuguese sauropod dinosaur Lusotitan atalaiensis (Macronaria) and the evolutionary history of basal titanosauriforms

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Abstract

Titanosauriforms represent a diverse and globally distributed clade of neosauropod dinosaurs, but their inter-relationships remain poorly understood. Here we redescribe Lusotitan atalaiensis from the Late Jurassic Lourinhã Formation of Portugal, a taxon previously referred to Brachiosaurus. The lectotype includes cervical, dorsal, and caudal vertebrae, and elements from the forelimb, hindlimb, and pelvic girdle. Lusotitan is a valid taxon and can be diagnosed by six autapomorphies, including the presence of elongate postzygapophyses that project well beyond the posterior margin of the neural arch in anterior-to-middle caudal vertebrae. A new phylogenetic analysis, focused on elucidating the evolutionary relationships of basal titanosauriforms, is presented, comprising 63 taxa scored for 279 characters. Many of these characters are heavily revised or novel to our study, and a number of ingroup taxa have never previously been incorporated into a phylogenetic analysis. We treated quantitative characters as discrete and continuous data in two parallel analyses, and explored the effect of implied weighting. Although we recovered monophyletic brachiosaurid and somphospondylan sister clades within Titanosauriformes, their compositions were affected by alternative treatments of quantitative data and, especially, by the weighting of such data. This suggests that the treatment of quantitative data is important and the wrong decisions might lead to incorrect tree topologies. In particular, the diversity of Titanosauria was greatly increased by the use of implied weights. Our results support the generic separation of the contemporaneous taxa Brachiosaurus, Giraffatitan, and Lusotitan, with the latter recovered as either a brachiosaurid or the sister taxon to Titanosauriformes. Although Janenschia was recovered as a basal macronarian, outside Titanosauria, the sympatric Australodocus provides body fossil evidence for the pre-Cretaceous origin of titanosaurs. We recovered evidence for a sauropod with close affinities to the Chinese taxon Mamenchisaurus in the Late Jurassic Tendaguru beds of Africa, and present new information demonstrating the wider distribution of caudal pneumaticity within Titanosauria. The earliest known titanosauriform body fossils are from the late Oxfordian (Late Jurassic), although trackway evidence indicates a Middle Jurassic origin. Diversity increased throughout the Late Jurassic, and titanosauriforms did not undergo a severe extinction across the Jurassic/Cretaceous boundary, in contrast to diplodocids and non-neosauropods. Titanosauriform diversity increased in the Barremian and Aptian–Albian as a result of radiations of derived somphospondylans and lithostrotians, respectively, but there was a severe drop (up to 40%) in species numbers at, or near, the Albian/Cenomanian boundary, representing a faunal turnover whereby basal titanosauriforms were replaced by derived titanosaurs, although this transition occurred in a spatiotemporally staggered fashion.

Original languageUnknown
Pages (from-to)98-206
JournalZoological Journal Of The Linnean Society
Volume168
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2013

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