Blair W. McPhee, Paul Upchurch, Philip D. Mannion, Corwin Sullivan, Richard J. Butler & Paul M. Barrett (2016)
A revision of Sanpasaurus yaoi Young, 1944 from the Early Jurassic of China, and its relevance to the early evolution of Sauropoda (Dinosauria) .
The Early Jurassic of China has long been recognized for its diverse array of sauropodomorph dinosaurs. However, the contribution of this record to our understanding of early sauropod evolution is complicated by a dearth of information on important transitional taxa. We present a revision of the poorly known taxon Sanpasaurus yaoi Young, 1944 from the late Early Jurassic Ziliujing Formation of Sichuan Province, southwest China. Initially described as the remains of an ornithopod ornithischian, we demonstrate that the material catalogued as IVPP V156 is unambiguously referable to Sauropoda. Although represented by multiple individuals of equivocal association, Sanpasaurus is nonetheless diagnosable with respect to an autapomorphic feature of the holotypic dorsal vertebral series. Additional material thought to be collected from the type locality is tentatively referred to Sanpasaurus. If correctly attributed, a second autapomorphy is present in a referred humerus. The presence of a dorsoventrally compressed pedal ungual in Sanpasaurus is of particular interest, with taxa possessing this typically ‘vulcanodontid’ character exhibiting a much broader geographic distribution than previously thought. Furthermore, the association of this trait with other features of Sanpasaurus that are broadly characteristic of basal eusauropods underscores the mosaic nature of the early sauropod–eusauropod transition. Our revision of Sanpasaurus has palaeobiogeographic implications for Early Jurassic sauropods, with evidence that the group maintained a cosmopolitan Pangaean distribution.