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Concept: Prosauropoda


The Lufeng Formation in Lufeng Basin of Yunnan Province, southwestern China preserves one of the richest terrestrial Lower Jurassic vertebrate faunas globally, especially for its basal sauropodomorphs, such as Lufengosaurus and Yunnanosaurus. Here we report a new taxon, Xingxiulong chengi gen. et sp. nov. represented by three partial skeletons with overlapping elements. Xingxiulong possesses a number of autapomorphies, such as transversely expanded plate-like summit on top of the neural spine of posterior dorsal vertebrae, four sacral vertebrae, robust scapula, and elongated pubic plate approximately 40% of the total length of the pubis. Phylogenetic analysis resolves Xingxiulong as a basal member of Sauropodiformes, and together with another two Lufeng basal sauropodiforms Jingshanosaurus and Yunnanosaurus, they represent the basalmost lineages of this clade, indicating its Asian origin. Although being relatively primitive, Xingxiulong displays some derived features normally occurred in advanced sauropodiforms including sauropods, such as a four sacral-sacrum, a robust scapula, and a pubis with elongated pubic plate. The discovery of Xingxiulong increases the diversity of basal sauropodomorphs from the Lufeng Formation and indicates a more complicated scenario in the early evolution of sauropodiforms.

Concepts: Phylogenetic nomenclature, Pelvis, Cladistics, Vertebra, Yunnan, Kunming, Dinosaur, Prosauropoda


Massospondylus carinatus is a basal sauropodomorph dinosaur from the early Jurassic Elliot Formation of South Africa. It is one of the best-represented fossil dinosaur taxa, known from hundreds of specimens including at least 13 complete or nearly complete skulls. Surprisingly, the internal cranial anatomy of M. carinatus has never been described using computed tomography (CT) methods. Using CT scans and 3D digital representations, we digitally reconstruct the bones of the facial skeleton, braincase, and palate of a complete, undistorted cranium of M. carinatus (BP/1/5241). We describe the anatomical features of the cranial bones, and compare them to other closely related sauropodomorph taxa such as Plateosaurus erlenbergiensis, Lufengosaurus huenei, Sarahsaurus aurifontanalis and Efraasia minor. We identify a suite of character states of the skull and braincase for M. carinatus that sets it apart from other taxa, but these remain tentative due to the lack of comparative sauropodomorph braincase descriptions in the literature. Furthermore, we hypothesize 27 new cranial characters useful for determining relationships in non-sauropodan Sauropodomorpha, delete five pre-existing characters and revise the scores of several existing cranial characters to make more explicit homology statements. All the characters that we hypothesized or revised are illustrated. Using parsimony as an optimality criterion, we then test the relationships of M. carinatus (using BP/1/5241 as a specimen-level exemplar) in our revised phylogenetic data matrix.

Concepts: Bone, Skull, Dinosaur, Sauropodomorpha, Prosauropoda, Massospondylidae, Massospondylus, Lufengosaurus


Many of the major locomotor transitions during the evolution of Archosauria, the lineage including crocodiles and birds as well as extinct Dinosauria, were shifts from quadrupedalism to bipedalism (and vice versa). Those occurred within a continuum between more sprawling and erect modes of locomotion and involved drastic changes of limb anatomy and function in several lineages, including sauropodomorph dinosaurs. We present biomechanical computer models of two locomotor extremes within Archosauria in an analysis of joint ranges of motion and the moment arms of the major forelimb muscles in order to quantify biomechanical differences between more sprawling, pseudosuchian (represented the crocodile Crocodylus johnstoni) and more erect, dinosaurian (represented by the sauropodomorph Mussaurus patagonicus) modes of forelimb function. We compare these two locomotor extremes in terms of the reconstructed musculoskeletal anatomy, ranges of motion of the forelimb joints and the moment arm patterns of muscles across those ranges of joint motion. We reconstructed the three-dimensional paths of 30 muscles acting around the shoulder, elbow and wrist joints. We explicitly evaluate how forelimb joint mobility and muscle actions may have changed with postural and anatomical alterations from basal archosaurs to early sauropodomorphs. We thus evaluate in which ways forelimb posture was correlated with muscle leverage, and how such differences fit into a broader evolutionary context (i.e. transition from sprawling quadrupedalism to erect bipedalism and then shifting to graviportal quadrupedalism). Our analysis reveals major differences of muscle actions between the more sprawling and erect models at the shoulder joint. These differences are related not only to the articular surfaces but also to the orientation of the scapula, in which extension/flexion movements in Crocodylus (e.g. protraction of the humerus) correspond to elevation/depression in Mussaurus. Muscle action is highly influenced by limb posture, more so than morphology. Habitual quadrupedalism in Mussaurus is not supported by our analysis of joint range of motion, which indicates that glenohumeral protraction was severely restricted. Additionally, some active pronation of the manus may have been possible in Mussaurus, allowing semi-pronation by a rearranging of the whole antebrachium (not the radius against the ulna, as previously thought) via long-axis rotation at the elbow joint. However, the muscles acting around this joint to actively pronate it may have been too weak to drive or maintain such orientations as opposed to a neutral position in between pronation and supination. Regardless, the origin of quadrupedalism in Sauropoda is not only linked to manus pronation but also to multiple shifts of forelimb morphology, allowing greater flexion movements of the glenohumeral joint and a more columnar forelimb posture.

Concepts: Humerus, Biceps brachii muscle, Joints, Shoulder, Dinosaur, Bipedalism, Archosaur, Prosauropoda


The evolutionary history of dinosaurs might date back to the first stages of the Triassic (c. 250-240 Ma), but the oldest unequivocal records of the group come from Late Triassic (Carnian - c. 230 Ma) rocks of South America. Here, we present the first braincase endocast of a Carnian dinosaur, the sauropodomorph Saturnalia tupiniquim, and provide new data regarding the evolution of the floccular and parafloccular lobe of the cerebellum (FFL), which has been extensively discussed in the field of palaeoneurology. Previous studies proposed that the development of a permanent quadrupedal stance was one of the factors leading to the volume reduction of the FFL of sauropods. However, based on the new data for S. tupiniquim we identified a first moment of FFL volume reduction in non-sauropodan Sauropodomorpha, preceding the acquisition of a fully quadrupedal stance. Analysing variations in FFL volume alongside other morphological changes in the group, we suggest that this reduction is potentially related to the adoption of a more restricted herbivore diet. In this context, the FFL of sauropods might represent a vestigial trait, retained in a reduced version from the bipedal and predatory early sauropodomorphs.

Concepts: Sauropoda, Dinosaur, Sauropodomorpha, Saurischia, Triassic, Archosaur, Prosauropoda, Saturnalia


We report an osseous abnormality on a specimen of the sauropod dinosaur Lufengosaurus huenei from the Fengjiahe Formation in Yuxi Basin, China. A gross pathological defect occurs on the right third rib, which was subjected to micro-computed tomographic imaging as an aid in diagnosis. The analysis of pathological characteristics and the shape of the abnormality is incompatible with impact or healed trauma, such as a common rib fracture, and instead suggests focal penetration of the rib, possibly due to a failed predator attack. The identification of characteristics based on gross morphology and internal micro-morphology presented by the specimen, suggests an abscess with osteomyelitis as the most parsimonious explanation. Osteomyelitis is a severe infection originating in the bone marrow, usually resulting from the introduction of pyogenic (pus-producing) bacteria into the bone. Micro-tomographic imaging of the lesion suggests a degree of healing and bone remodelling following post-traumatic wound infection with evidence of sclerotic bone formation at the site of pathological focus, indicating that L. huenei survived the initial trauma. However, as osteomyelitis can express through widespread systemic effects, including a lowering of immune response and overall condition, this disease may have been a contributing factor to the eventual death of the individual.

Concepts: Immune system, Inflammation, Bone, Bone marrow, Infection, Osteomyelitis, Dinosaur, Prosauropoda


Sauropod dinosaurs include the largest terrestrial animals and are considered to have uninterrupted rapid rates of growth, which differs from their more basal relatives, which have a slower cyclical growth. Here we examine the bone microstructure of several sauropodomorph dinosaurs, including basal taxa, as well as the more derived sauropods. Although our results agree that the plesiomorphic condition for Sauropodomorpha is cyclical growth dynamics, we found that the hypothesized dichotomy between the growth patterns of basal and more derived sauropodomorphs is not supported. Here, we show that sauropod-like growth dynamics of uninterrupted rapid growth also occurred in some basal sauropodomorphs, and that some basal sauropods retained the plesiomorphic cyclical growth patterns. Among the sauropodomorpha it appears that the basal taxa exploited different growth strategies, but the more derived Eusauropoda successfully utilized rapid, uninterrupted growth strategies.

Concepts: Sauropoda, Dinosaur, Sauropodomorpha, Diplodocus, Saurischia, Diplodocoidea, Prosauropoda


Mussaurus patagonicus (Dinosauria: Sauropodomorpha) is a basal sauropodomorph from the Late Triassic of southern Argentina that is known from a large number of individuals, including juveniles, subadults, and adults. Here, we report on the occurrence of an unusual bone tissue in an individual of M. patagonicus. The rather atypical bone tissue is located within the femoral medullary cavity and also occurs within several erosion cavities of the midinner part of the cortex. This tissue is well vascularized and is composed of a matrix that consists of abundant and densely packed osteocyte lacunae. Although some features of this tissue resembles avian medullary bone, the histological features are distinctive and share more features with the pathological, reactive bone produced in extant birds in response to a retrovirus-induced disease (avian osteopetrosis). Here, we also discuss and provide histological features to effectively differentiate endosteally formed medullary bone from pathological avian osteopetrosis. Anat Rec, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Concepts: Bone, Skeletal system, Bird, Dinosaur, Sauropodomorpha, Saurischia, Triassic, Prosauropoda