Ricardo M Araujo, Vincent Fernandez, Michael J Polcyn, Jörg Fröbisch & Rui M.S. Martins (2017)
Aspects of gorgonopsian paleobiology and evolution: insights from the basicranium, occiput, osseous labyrinth, vasculature, and neuroanatomy
PeerJ Preprints 5:e2313v2
Synapsida, the clade including therapsids and thus also mammals, is one of the two major branches of amniotes. Organismal design, with modularity as a concept, offers insights into the evolution of therapsids, a group that experienced profound anatomical transformations throughout the past 270Ma, eventually leading to the evolution of the mammalian bauplan. However, the anatomy of some therapsid groups remains obscure. Gorgonopsian braincase anatomy is poorly known and many anatomical aspects of the brain, cranial nerves, vasculature, and osseous labyrinth, remain unclear. We analyzed two gorgonopsian specimens, GPIT/RE/7124 and GPIT/RE/7119, using propagation phase contrast synchrotron micro-computed tomography. The lack of fusion between many basicranial and occipital bones in the immature specimen GPIT/RE/7124 allowed us to reconstruct its anatomy and ontogenetic sequence in comparison with the mature GPIT/RE/7119. We examined the braincase and rendered various skull cavities. Notably, there is a separate ossification between what was previously referred to as the “parasphenoid” and the basioccipital. We reinterpreted this element as a posterior ossification of the basisphenoid: the basipostsphenoid. Moreover, the “parasphenoid” is a co-ossification of the dermal parasphenoid and the endochondral basipresphenoid. Our detailed examination of the osseous labyrinth reveals a unique discoid, rather than toroidal, morphology of the horizontal semicircular canal that probably results from architectural constraints of the opisthotic and supraoccipital ossifications. In addition, the orientation of the horizontal semicircular canal suggests that gorgonopsians had an anteriorly tilted alert head posture. The morphology of the brain endocast is in accordance with the more reptilian endocast shape of other non-mammaliaform neotherapsids.