Marco Romano, Ausonio Ronchi, Simone Maganuco, and Umberto Nicosia (2017)
New material of Alierasaurus ronchii (Synapsida, Caseidae) from the Permian of Sardinia (Italy), and its phylogenetic affinities.
Palaeontologia Electronica 20.2.26A: 1-27
New characters of the giant caseid Alierasaurus ronchii are described here based on material recovered from the type locality in the Permian deposits of Cala del Vino Formation (Sardinia NW) and additional preparation of the previously collected material. All new described osteological elements are characterized by the same state of preservation and, given the absence of double elements and the total compatibility in absolute size, the new material can be attributed without doubt to the holotypic individual of A. ronchii. Highly diagnostic material includes a caudal neural spine with a broad bifid distal termination. This represents a synapomorphy characterizing the more derived caseids, thus fully confirming the attribution of the Sardinian specimen to Caseidae. Also the other vertebral material and newly collected ribs show a typical caseid structure, fully consistent with the previously published material. Despite the highly partial nature of Alierasaurus, the taxon was included in a recent phylogenetic analysis of caseids to investigate its phylogenetic position within the monophyletic Caseasauria. Alierasaurus falls as the sister taxon of Cotylorhynchus, and is autapomorphic in the general construction of MT-IV and proximal phalanx IV-I. The absolute size of the newly recovered material confirms a gigantic body size for Alierasaurus, comparable, if not greater, to that of the huge North American species Cotylorhynchus hancocki (up to 6 m in length). Such gigantic adult body size, closely correlated to its herbivorous lifestyle, must have been selected during evolution of caseids, leading to substantial advantages in terms of fitness.