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[dinosaur] Bony pits in ratite bill tip + lizard tooth shapes + trionychid phylogeny + more

Ben Creisler

Rumors of a big news week ahead...

For now, here are some recent non-dino papers that may be of interest:

Martina R. Crole & John T. Soley (2017)
Bony pits in the ostrich (Struthio camelus) and emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) bill tip.
The Anatomical Records (advance online publication)
DOI: 10.1002/ar.23594

A specialized region of the bill tip characterized by a complex arrangement of mechanoreceptors and referred to as a bill tip organ, has been identified in numerous avians. A bill tip organ was initially inferred in kiwi species by the presence of numerous, bony pits in the rostrum of the bill, and later confirmed histologically. This study enumerates and compares the number and distribution of pits present in the bill tip in the ostrich and emu. The heads from 10 ostrich and 5 emu were prepared for osteological examination. The pattern and total number of pits was similar between the two species. However, the ostrich had significantly more pits in the regions underlying the Culmen and Gonys, whereas the emu displayed significantly more pits in the dorsal part of the mandibular rostrum. The relatively even distribution of pits in the inner and outer surfaces of both the mandibular and maxillary rostra suggest that the bill tip of the ostrich and emu are equally sensitive externally and intra-orally, as opposed to probing birds, where the major concentration of pits is located on the outer surfaces of the bill tips. The presence of pits in the bill tips of extant paleaognaths may be of relevance in interpreting the pits in the rostra of extinct therapod dinosaurs. The presence of bony pits in a region which is also well supplied with sensory nerves is highly suggestive of a bill tip organ in the ostrich and emu and which needs to be confirmed histologically. 


Keegan M. Melstrom (2017)
The relationship between diet and tooth complexity in living dentigerous saurians.
Journal of Morphology 278(4): 500–522
DOI: 10.1002/jmor.20645

Living saurian reptiles exhibit a wide range of diets, from carnivores to strict herbivores. Previous research suggests that the tooth shape in some lizard clades correlates with diet, but this has not been tested using quantitative methods. I investigated the relationship between phenotypic tooth complexity and diet in living reptiles by examining the entire dentary tooth row in over 80 specimens comprising all major dentigerous saurian clades. I quantified dental complexity using orientation patch count rotated (OPCR), which discriminates diet in living and extinct mammals, where OPCR-values increase with the proportion of dietary plant matter. OPCR was calculated from high-resolution CT-scans, and I standardized OPCR-values by the total number of teeth to account for differences in tooth count across taxa. In contrast with extant mammals, there appears to be greater overlap in tooth complexity values across dietary groups because multicusped teeth characterize herbivores, omnivores, and insectivores, and because herbivorous skinks have relatively simple teeth. In particular, insectivorous lizards have dental complexities that are very similar to omnivores. Regardless, OPCR-values for animals that consume significant amounts of plant material are higher than those of carnivores, with herbivores having the highest average dental complexity. These results suggest reptilian tooth complexity is related to diet, similar to extinct and extant mammals, although phylogenetic history also plays a measurable role in dental complexity. This has implications for extinct amniotes that display a dramatic range of tooth morphologies, many with no modern analogs, which inhibits detailed dietary reconstructions. These data demonstrate that OPCR, when combined with additional morphological data, has the potential to be used to reconstruct the diet of extinct amniotes. 


Floréal Solé and Sandrine Ladevèze (2017)
Evolution of the hypercarnivorous dentition in mammals (Metatheria, Eutheria) and its bearing on the development of tribosphenic molars.
Evolution & Development 19(2): 56–68
DOI: 10.1111/ede.12219

One major innovation of mammals is the tribosphenic molar, characterized by the evolution of a neomorphic upper cusp (=protocone) and a lower basin (=talonid) that occlude and provide shearing and crushing functions. This type of molar is an evolutionarily flexible structure that enabled mammals to achieve complex dental adaptations. Among carnivorous mammals, hypercarnivory is a common trend that evolved several times among therians (marsupials, placentals, and stem relatives). Hypercarnivory involves an important simplification of the carnassial molar pattern from the ancestral tribosphenic molar pattern, with the modification of the triangular tooth crown, and the loss of several cusps and cuspids typical of the tribosphenic molar. These losses confer to the molars of the hypercarnivorous mammals a plesiomorphic/paedomorphic morphology that resembles more the earliest mammaliaforms than the earliest therians. Here, we demonstrate that the modification of the molar morphology is fully explained by a patterning cascade mode of cusp development. Contrary to what was previously proposed, our study concludes that the metaconid (mesiolingual cusp of lower molars, associated with a puncturing function) does not influence cusp development of the talonid (distal crushing heel of lower molars). Moreover, it provides a new example of how heterochronic changes were crucial to the evolution of mammal dentition. To overcome the difficulty of applying behavioral or ecological definitions of diets to fossil animals, we characterize hypercarnivorous dentitions on the basis of the molar morphology and more particularly on the loss or retention of crushing structures, each dentition resulting from adaptations to a distinct ecomorphotype. Despite repeated and convergent evolution of hypercarnivorous forms, hypercarnivory appears as a highly constrained specialization (i.e., “dead end”) that is unlikely to evolve back to omnivorous dentition, especially when the crushing structures are lost.


Haifeng Li, Juanjuan Liu, Lei Xiong, Huanhuan Zhang, Huaxing Zhou, Huazong Yin, Wanxing Jing, Jun Li, Qiong Shi, Yuqin Wang, Jianjun Liu & Liuwang Nie  (2017)
Phylogenetic relationships and divergence dates of softshell turtles (Testudines: Trionychidae) inferred from complete mitochondrial genomes.
Journal of Evolution and Biology (advance online publication)
DOI: 10.1111/jeb.13070

The softshell turtles (Trionychidae) are one of the most widely distributed reptile groups in the world, and fossils have been found on all continents except Antarctica. The phylogenetic relationships among members of this group have been previously studied; however, there are disagreements regarding its taxonomy, its phylogeography and divergence times are still poorly understood as well. Here we present a comprehensive mitogenomic study of softshell turtles. We sequenced the complete mitochondrial genomes of 10 softshell turtles, in addition to the GenBank sequence of Dogania subplana, Lissemys punctata, Trionyx triunguis, which cover all extant genera within Trionychidae except for Cyclanorbis and Cycloderma. These data were combined with other mitogenomes of turtles for phylogenetic analyses. Divergence time-calibration and ancestral reconstruction were calculated using BEAST and RASP software, respectively. Our phylogenetic analyses indicate that Trionychidae is the sister taxon of Carettochelyidae, and support the monophyly of Trionychinae and Cyclanorbinae, which is consistent with morphological data and molecular analysis. Our phylogenetic analyses have established a sister taxon relationship between the Asian Rafetus and the Asian Palea + Pelodiscus + Dogania + Nilssonia + Amyda, whereas a previous study grouped the Asian Rafetus with the American Apalone. The results of divergence time estimates and area ancestral reconstruction show that extant Trionychidae originated in Asia at around 108 million years ago (MA), and radiations mainly occurred during two warm periods, namely, Late Cretaceous–Early Eocene and Oligocene. By combining the estimateddivergence time and the reconstructed ancestral area of softshell turtles, we determined that the dispersal of softshell turtles out of Asia may have taken three routes. Furthermore, the times of dispersal seem to be in agreement with the time of the India-Asia collision and opening of the Bering Strait, which provide evidence for the accuracy of our estimation of divergence time. Overall, the mitogenomes of this group were used to explore the origin and dispersal route of Trionychidae and have provided new insights on the evolution of this group.