Natasha S. Vitek, Igor G. Danilov, Yasuhisa Nakajima & Ren Hirayama (2017)
Redescription of the skull of ‘Trionyx’ kyrgyzensis and improved phylogenetic taxon sampling of Cretaceous and Palaeogene soft-shelled turtles (Trionychidae) of Asia, including the oldest crown trionychids.
Journal of Systematic Palaeontology (advance online publication)
Although fossils of Trionychidae are found as far back as the Early Cretaceous, their evolutionary history, including the origin of the crown clade, is poorly understood. Here, we use a microCT scan of the skull of ‘Trionyx’ kyrgyzensis from the late Early Cretaceous (Albian) of Kyrgyzstan as the basis for a thorough redescription of the cranial morphology of this species. New information includes the pattern of cranial circulation, which is comparable to all extant trionychids. A unique combination of cranial and postcranial characters of ‘Trionyx’ kyrgyzensis allows us to establish for it a new genus Petrochelys gen. nov. The data regarding Petrochelys kyrgyzensis are incorporated into a phylogenetic analysis. When Petrochelys kyrgyzensis is analysed without including additional, extinct taxa, it is placed in a highly derived position within the extant Nilssonia. However, the addition of five Cretaceous–Palaeogene taxa breaks up hypothesized long branches and results in more basal positions for Petrochelys kyrgyzensis within recovered trees. All results support the hypothesis that Petrochelys kyrgyzensis is a crown trionychid and a member of Trionychinae. Our findings highlight the importance of including multiple extinct taxa in phylogenetic analyses prior to using any of those taxa as calibration points in divergence dating estimates.