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[dinosaur] Lungfish fins and digit origin + amniote tracks in sand dunes + Crocodylus dispersal across Tethys + marsupials + thylacines

Ben Creisler

Some recent non-dino papers:


Free pdf:

Joost M. Woltering, Iker Irisarri, Rolf Ericsson, Jean M. P. Joss, Paolo Sordino and Axel Meyer (2020)
Sarcopterygian fin ontogeny elucidates the origin of hands with digits.
Science Advances 6(34): eabc3510
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abc3510

Free pdf:

How the hand and digits originated from fish fins during the Devonian fin-to-limb transition remains unsolved. Controversy in this conundrum stems from the scarcity of ontogenetic data from extant lobe-finned fishes. We report the patterning of an autopod-like domain by hoxa13 during fin development of the Australian lungfish, the most closely related extant fish relative of tetrapods. Differences from tetrapod limbs include the absence of digit-specific expansion of hoxd13 and hand2 and distal limitation of alx4 and pax9, which potentially evolved through an enhanced response to shh signaling in limbs. These developmental patterns indicate that the digit program originated in postaxial fin radials and later expanded anteriorly inside of a preexisting autopod-like domain during the evolution of limbs. Our findings provide a genetic framework for the transition of fins into limbs that supports the significance of classical models proposing a bending of the tetrapod metapterygial axis.


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Stephen M. Rowland, Mario V. Caputo & Zachary A. Jensen (2020)
Early adaptation to eolian sand dunes by basal amniotes is documented in two Pennsylvanian Grand Canyon trackways.
PLoS ONE 15(8): e0237636.
doi: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0237636

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We report the discovery of two very early, basal-amniote fossil trackways on the same bedding plane in eolian sandstone of the Pennsylvanian Manakacha Formation in Grand Canyon, Arizona. Trackway 1, which is Chelichnus-like, we interpret to be a shallow undertrackway. It displays a distinctive, sideways-drifting, footprint pattern not previously documented in a tetrapod trackway. We interpret this pattern to record the trackmaker employing a lateral-sequence gait while diagonally ascending a slope of about 20Â, thereby reducing the steepness of the ascent. Trackway 2 consists only of aligned sets of claw marks. We interpret this trackway to be a deeper undertrackway, made some hours or days later, possibly by an animal that was conspecific with Trackmaker 1, while walking directly up the slope at a speed of approximately 0.1 m/sec. These trackways are the first tetrapod tracks reported from the Manakacha Formation and the oldest in the Grand Canyon region. The narrow width of both trackways indicates that both trackmakers had relatively small femoral abduction angles and correspondingly relatively erect postures. They represent the earliest known occurrence of dunefield-dwelling amniotes--either basal reptiles or basal synapsids--thereby extending the known utilization of the desert biome by amniotes, as well as the presence of the Chelichnus ichnofacies, by at least eight million years, into the Atokan/Moscovian Age of the Pennsylvanian Epoch. The depositional setting was a coastal-plain, eolian dunefield in which tidal or wadi flooding episodically interrupted eolian processes and buried the dunes in mud.


Massimo Delfino, Ãngel H. LujÃn, Juan Abella, David M. Alba, Madelaine BÃhme, Alejandro PÃrez-Ramos, Emanuel Tschopp, Jorge Morales & Plini Montoya (2020)
Late Miocene remains from Venta del Moro (Iberian Peninsula) provide further insights on the dispersal of crocodiles across the late Miocene Tethys
Journal of Paleontology (advance online publication)
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/jpa.2020.62PublishedArticle

The dispersal of Crocodylus from Africa to Europe during the Miocene is not well understood. A small collection of cranial fragments and postcranial elements from the latest Miocene (6.2 Ma) site of Venta del Moro (Valencia, Spain) have previously been referred to Crocodylus cf. C. checchiai Maccagno, 1947 without accompanying descriptions. Here we describe and figure for the first time the crocodylian remains from Venta del Moro, which represent at least two individuals. Our comparisons indicate that this material clearly does not belong to Diplocynodon or Tomistomaâthe only two other crocodylians described so far for the European late Miocene. The material is only tentatively referred to cf. Crocodylus sp. because the apomorphies of this genus are not preserved and a referral to C. checchiai cannot be supported on a morphological basis. However, it is likely that this late Miocene species, originally described from Libya (As Sahabi) and later identified also in Kenya, could have dispersed across the Mediterranean Basin multiple times and colonized the southern areas of Mediterranean Europe, as evidenced by several Crocodylus or Crocodylus-like remains described during the past years.


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Alice L. Denyer, Sophie Regnault & John R. Hutchinson (2020)
Evolution of the patella and patelloid in marsupial mammals.
PeerJ 8:e9760
doi: Âhttps://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.9760

The musculoskeletal system of marsupial mammals has numerous unusual features beyond the pouch and epipubic bones. One example is the widespread absence or reduction (to a fibrous "patelloid") of the patella ("kneecap") sesamoid bone, but prior studies with coarse sampling indicated complex patterns of evolution of this absence or reduction. Here, we conducted an in-depth investigation into the form of the patella of extant marsupial species and used the assembled dataset to reconstruct the likely pattern of evolution of the marsupial patella. Critical assessment of the available literature was followed by examination and imaging of museum specimens, as well as CT scanning and histological examination of dissected wet specimens. Our results, from sampling about 19% of extant marsupial species-level diversity, include new images and descriptions of the fibrocartilaginous patelloid in Thylacinus cynocephalus (the thylacine or "marsupial wolf") and other marsupials as well as the ossified patella in Notoryctes 'marsupial moles', Caenolestes shrew opossums, bandicoots and bilbies. We found novel evidence of an ossified patella in one specimen of Macropus rufogriseus (Bennettâs wallaby), with hints of similar variation in other species. It remains uncertain whether such ossifications are ontogenetic variation, unusual individual variation, pathological or otherwise, but future studies must continue to be conscious of variation in metatherian patellar sesamoid morphology. Our evolutionary reconstructions using our assembled data vary, too, depending on the reconstruction algorithm used. A maximum likelihood algorithm favours ancestral fibrocartilaginous "patelloid" for crown clade Marsupialia and independent origins of ossified patellae in extinct sparassodonts, peramelids, notoryctids and caenolestids. A maximum parsimony algorithm favours ancestral ossified patella for the clade [Marsupialia + sparassodonts] and subsequent reductions into fibrocartilage in didelphids, dasyuromorphs and diprotodonts; but this result changed to agree more with the maximum likelihood results if the character state reconstructions were ordered. Thus, there is substantial homoplasy in marsupial patellae regardless of the evolutionary algorithm adopted. We contend that the most plausible inference, however, is that metatherians independently ossified their patellae at least three times in their evolution. Furthermore, the variability of the patellar state we observed, even within single species (e.g. M. rufogriseus), is fascinating and warrants further investigation, especially as it hints at developmental plasticity that might have been harnessed in marsupial evolution to drive the complex patterns inferred here.


Douglass S. Rovinsky, Alistair R. Evans, Damir G. Martin and Justin W. Adams (2020)
Did the thylacine violate the costs of carnivory? Body mass and sexual dimorphism of an iconic Australian marsupial.
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (1933): 20201537.
doi: https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2020.1537

Free pdf:

The relative body masses of predators and their prey strongly affect the predators' ecology. An accurate estimate of the mass of an extinct predator is therefore key to revealing its biology and the structure of the ecosystem it inhabited. Until its extinction, the thylacine was the largest extant carnivorous marsupial, but little data exist regarding its body mass, with an average of 29.5 kg the most commonly used estimate. According to the costs of carnivory model, this estimate predicts that thylacines would have focused on prey subequal to or larger than themselves; however, many studies of their functional morphology suggest a diet of smaller animals. Here, we present new body mass estimates for 93 adult thylacines, including two taxidermy specimens and four complete mounted skeletons, representing 40 known-sex specimens, using three-dimensional volumetric model-informed regressions. We demonstrate that prior estimates substantially overestimated average adult thylacine body mass. We show mixed-sex population mean (16.7 kg), mean male (19.7 kg), and mean female (13.7 kg) body masses well below prior estimates, and below the 21 kg costs of carnivory threshold. Our data show that the thylacine did not violate the costs of carnivory. The thylacine instead occupied the 14.5â21 kg predator/prey range characterized by small-prey predators capable of occasionally switching to relatively large-bodied prey if necessary.

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