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[dinosaur] Pachypleurosauria (Middle Triassic Sauropterygia) growth patterns, sexual dimorphism, and maturation (free pdf)

Ben Creisler

A new paper in open access:

Nicole Klein and Eva Maria Griebeler (2018)
Growth patterns, sexual dimorphism, and maturation modeled in Pachypleurosauria from Middle Triassic of central Europe (Diapsida: Sauropterygia).
Fossil Record 21: 137-157

Bone tissue, microanatomy, and growth are studied in humeri of the pachypleurosaurs Dactylosaurus from the early Anisian of Poland and of aff. Neusticosaurus pusillus from the Lettenkeuper (early Ladinian) of southern Germany. Histology and modeled growth curves are compared to already published data of other pachypleurosaurs. Therefore, we herein established growth curves for Anarosaurus from the middle Anisian of Winterswijk (the Netherlands) and for pachypleurosaurs from the Anisian/Ladinian of the Alpine Triassic (i.e., Neusticosaurus spp. and Serpianosaurus). Humeri of Dactylosaurus, Anarosaurus, and aff. N. pusillus, all from the Germanic Basin, usually display an inner ring of (pre-)hatchling bone tissue. In some samples this tissue is surrounded by a layer of perpendicularly oriented fine fibers, which could indicate the start of active locomotion for foraging or might be related to viviparity. However, pachypleurosaurs from the Alpine Triassic do not show this tissue. This in turn could be related to overall differences in the environments inhabited (Germanic Basin vs. Alpine Triassic). Histological comparison revealed distinct taxon-specific differences in microanatomy and bone tissue type between Anarosaurus on the one hand and Dactylosaurus and the NeusticosaurusâSerpianosaurus clade on the other hand. Microanatomical differences imply a different degree in secondary adaptation to an aquatic environment.

Life-history traits derived histologically and obtained from modeling growth were in general rather similar for all studied pachypleurosaurs. Onset of sexual maturation was within the first third of life. Asymptotic ages (maximum life span) considerably exceeded documented and modeled ages at death in all pachypleurosaur taxa. All traits modeled (more or less) matched values seen in similar-sized extant reptiles. Growth curves revealed differences in growth and maturation strategies within taxa that could indicate sexual dimorphism expressed in different adult sizes and a different onset of sexual maturation. Differences in gender size and morphology is well documented for the Chinese pachypleurosaur Keichousaurus and for Neusticosaurus spp. from the Alpine Triassic. Birth-to-adult size ratios of herein studied pachypleurosaurs were consistent with those seen in other viviparous Sauropterygia, other viviparous extinct taxa as well as extant viviparous reptiles. Anarosaurus had the highest maximum growth rates of all pachypleurosaurs studied, which best conformed to those seen in today's similar-sized reptiles and is expected from its bone tissue type. The other pachypleurosaur taxa had lower rates than the average seen in similar-sized extant reptiles.

We hypothesize from our data that the considerably higher asymptotic ages compared to ages at death, early onset of maturation compared to asymptotic age, and viviparity reflect that pachypleurosaurs lived in predator-dominated environments.