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[dinosaur] Elasmosaur prolonged tooth formation (free pdf) + Sauropterygia axial development

Ben Creisler

New papers:

Free pdf:

Benjamin P. Kear, Dennis Larsson, Johan Lindgren & Martin Kundrát (2017)
Exceptionally prolonged tooth formation in elasmosaurid plesiosaurians. 
PLoS ONE 12(2): e0172759. 

Elasmosaurid plesiosaurians were globally prolific marine reptiles that dominated the Mesozoic seas for over 70 million years. Their iconic body-plan incorporated an exceedingly long neck and small skull equipped with prominent intermeshing ‘fangs’. How this bizarre dental apparatus was employed in feeding is uncertain, but fossilized gut contents indicate a diverse diet of small pelagic vertebrates, cephalopods and epifaunal benthos. Here we report the first plesiosaurian tooth formation rates as a mechanism for servicing the functional dentition. Multiple dentine thin sections were taken through isolated elasmosaurid teeth from the Upper Cretaceous of Sweden. These specimens revealed an average of 950 daily incremental lines of von Ebner, and infer a remarkably protracted tooth formation cycle of about 2–3 years–other polyphyodont amniotes normally take ~1–2 years to form their teeth. Such delayed odontogenesis might reflect differences in crown length and function within an originally uneven tooth array. Indeed, slower replacement periodicity has been found to distinguish larger caniniform teeth in macrophagous pliosaurid plesiosaurians. However, the archetypal sauropterygian dental replacement system likely also imposed constraints via segregation of the developing tooth germs within discrete bony crypts; these partly resorbed to allow maturation of the replacement teeth within the primary alveoli after displacement of the functional crowns. Prolonged dental formation has otherwise been linked to tooth robustness and adaption for vigorous food processing. Conversely, elasmosaurids possessed narrow crowns with an elongate profile that denotes structural fragility. Their apparent predilection for easily subdued prey could thus have minimized this potential for damage, and was perhaps coupled with selective feeding strategies that ecologically optimized elasmosaurids towards more delicate middle trophic level aquatic predation.


Laura C. Soul and Roger B. J. Benson (2017)
Developmental mechanisms of macroevolutionary change in the tetrapod axis: A case study of Sauropterygia.
Evolution (advance online publication)
doi: 10.1111/evo.13217

Understanding how developmental processes change on macroevolutionary timescales to generate body plan disparity is fundamental to the study of vertebrate evolution. Adult morphology of the vertebral column directly reflects the mechanisms that generate vertebral counts (somitogenesis) and their regionalisation (homeotic effects) during embryonic development. Sauropterygians were a group of Mesozoic marine reptiles that exhibited an extremely high disparity of presacral vertebral/somite counts. Using phylogenetic comparative methods, we demonstrate that somitogenesis and homeotic effects evolved in a co-ordinated way among sauropterygians, contrasting with the wider pattern in tetrapods, in which somitogenetic and homeotic shifts are uncorrelated. Changes in sauropterygian body proportions were primarily enabled by homeotic shifts, with a lesser, but important, contribution from differences in post-patterning growth among somites. High body plan plasticity was present in Triassic sauropterygians and was maintained among their Jurassic and Cretaceous descendants. The extreme disparity in the body plan of plesiosaurian sauropterygians did not result from accelerated rates of evolutionary change in neck length, but instead reflect this ancestral versatility of sauropterygian axial development. Our results highlight variation in modes of axial development among tetrapods, and show that heterogeneous statistical models can uncover novel macroevolutionary patterns for animal body plans and the developmental mechanisms that control them.