Bryan M. Gee, William G. Parker & Adam D. Marsh (2017)
Microanatomy and paleohistology of the intercentra of North American metoposaurids from the Upper Triassic of Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona, USA) with implications for the taxonomy and ontogeny of the group.
Metoposaurids are temnospondyl amphibians that are commonly recovered from the Chinle Formation deposits of North America. Two species, Koskinonodon perfectus and Apachesaurus gregorii, are known from Petrified Forest National Park (PEFO), AZ. Small, elongate intercentra are the single diagnostic postcranial characteristic of the smaller A. gregorii. However, a poor understanding of the earliest life stages of Koskinonodon perfectus and other large metoposaurids makes it unclear whether the proportions of the intercentra are a diagnostic feature for species discrimination or whether they are influenced by ontogeny. Previous work on metoposaurid intercentra has shown that ontogenetic information can be extrapolated from histological analyses. Here, we perform an analysis of the microanatomy and the histology of metoposaurid intercentra from PEFO to determine their ontogenetic maturity and in turn whether elongate intercentra are a reliable taxonomic feature for distinguishing North American metoposaurids. Our findings suggest that the elongate intercentra are the result of ontogenetic variation within a single large-bodied metoposaurid taxon rather than interspecific variation between two metoposaurids of vastly different adult sizes. These findings have significant implications for the taxonomy of North American metoposaurids and subsequently for interpretations of the Chinle Basin paleoenvironment. Furthermore, this study provides the first histological characterization of North American metoposaurid intercentra, thereby improving the understanding of vertebral ontogeny within Metoposauridae and offering new insights into the ecology of large metoposaurids.