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Concept: Sauropoda


Australian dinosaurs have played a rare but controversial role in the debate surrounding the effect of Gondwanan break-up on Cretaceous dinosaur distribution. Major spatiotemporal gaps in the Gondwanan Cretaceous fossil record, coupled with taxon incompleteness, have hindered research on this effect, especially in Australia. Here we report on two new sauropod specimens from the early Late Cretaceous of Queensland, Australia, that have important implications for Cretaceous dinosaur palaeobiogeography. Savannasaurus elliottorum gen. et sp. nov. comprises one of the most complete Cretaceous sauropod skeletons ever found in Australia, whereas a new specimen of Diamantinasaurus matildae includes the first ever cranial remains of an Australian sauropod. The results of a new phylogenetic analysis, in which both Savannasaurus and Diamantinasaurus are recovered within Titanosauria, were used as the basis for a quantitative palaeobiogeographical analysis of macronarian sauropods. Titanosaurs achieved a worldwide distribution by at least 125 million years ago, suggesting that mid-Cretaceous Australian sauropods represent remnants of clades which were widespread during the Early Cretaceous. These lineages would have entered Australasia via dispersal from South America, presumably across Antarctica. High latitude sauropod dispersal might have been facilitated by Albian-Turonian warming that lifted a palaeoclimatic dispersal barrier between Antarctica and South America.

Concepts: Continent, Pacific Ocean, Cretaceous, Antarctica, Sauropoda, Dinosaur, Titanosaur, Macronaria


Diplodocidae are among the best known sauropod dinosaurs. Several species were described in the late 1800s or early 1900s from the Morrison Formation of North America. Since then, numerous additional specimens were recovered in the USA, Tanzania, Portugal, and Argentina, as well as possibly Spain, England, Georgia, Zimbabwe, and Asia. To date, the clade includes about 12 to 15 nominal species, some of them with questionable taxonomic status (e.g., ‘Diplodocus’ hayi or Dyslocosaurus polyonychius), and ranging in age from Late Jurassic to Early Cretaceous. However, intrageneric relationships of the iconic, multi-species genera Apatosaurus and Diplodocus are still poorly known. The way to resolve this issue is a specimen-based phylogenetic analysis, which has been previously implemented for Apatosaurus, but is here performed for the first time for the entire clade of Diplodocidae. The analysis includes 81 operational taxonomic units, 49 of which belong to Diplodocidae. The set of OTUs includes all name-bearing type specimens previously proposed to belong to Diplodocidae, alongside a set of relatively complete referred specimens, which increase the amount of anatomically overlapping material. Non-diplodocid outgroups were selected to test the affinities of potential diplodocid specimens that have subsequently been suggested to belong outside the clade. The specimens were scored for 477 morphological characters, representing one of the most extensive phylogenetic analyses of sauropod dinosaurs. Character states were figured and tables given in the case of numerical characters. The resulting cladogram recovers the classical arrangement of diplodocid relationships. Two numerical approaches were used to increase reproducibility in our taxonomic delimitation of species and genera. This resulted in the proposal that some species previously included in well-known genera like Apatosaurus and Diplodocus are generically distinct. Of particular note is that the famous genus Brontosaurus is considered valid by our quantitative approach. Furthermore, “Diplodocus” hayi represents a unique genus, which will herein be called Galeamopus gen. nov. On the other hand, these numerical approaches imply synonymization of “Dinheirosaurus” from the Late Jurassic of Portugal with the Morrison Formation genus Supersaurus. Our use of a specimen-, rather than species-based approach increases knowledge of intraspecific and intrageneric variation in diplodocids, and the study demonstrates how specimen-based phylogenetic analysis is a valuable tool in sauropod taxonomy, and potentially in paleontology and taxonomy as a whole.

Concepts: Biology, Sauropoda, Dinosaur, Diplodocus, Supersaurus, Jurassic, Brachiosaurus, Camarasaurus


Sauropod dinosaurs are a group of herbivorous dinosaurs which exceeded all other terrestrial vertebrates in mean and maximal body size. Sauropod dinosaurs were also the most successful and long-lived herbivorous tetrapod clade, but no abiological factors such as global environmental parameters conducive to their gigantism can be identified. These facts justify major efforts by evolutionary biologists and paleontologists to understand sauropods as living animals and to explain their evolutionary success and uniquely gigantic body size. Contributions to this research program have come from many fields and can be synthesized into a biological evolutionary cascade model of sauropod dinosaur gigantism (sauropod gigantism ECM). This review focuses on the sauropod gigantism ECM, providing an updated version based on the contributions to the PLoS ONE sauropod gigantism collection and on other very recent published evidence. The model consist of five separate evolutionary cascades (“Reproduction”, “Feeding”, “Head and neck”, “Avian-style lung”, and “Metabolism”). Each cascade starts with observed or inferred basal traits that either may be plesiomorphic or derived at the level of Sauropoda. Each trait confers hypothetical selective advantages which permit the evolution of the next trait. Feedback loops in the ECM consist of selective advantages originating from traits higher in the cascades but affecting lower traits. All cascades end in the trait “Very high body mass”. Each cascade is linked to at least one other cascade. Important plesiomorphic traits of sauropod dinosaurs that entered the model were ovipary as well as no mastication of food. Important evolutionary innovations (derived traits) were an avian-style respiratory system and an elevated basal metabolic rate. Comparison with other tetrapod lineages identifies factors limiting body size.

Concepts: Evolution, Metabolism, Bird, Paleontology, Sauropoda, Dinosaur, Sauropodomorpha, Titanosaur


We describe Sarmientosaurus musacchioi gen. et sp. nov., a titanosaurian sauropod dinosaur from the Upper Cretaceous (Cenomanian-Turonian) Lower Member of the Bajo Barreal Formation of southern Chubut Province in central Patagonia, Argentina. The holotypic and only known specimen consists of an articulated, virtually complete skull and part of the cranial and middle cervical series. Sarmientosaurus exhibits the following distinctive features that we interpret as autapomorphies: (1) maximum diameter of orbit nearly 40% rostrocaudal length of cranium; (2) complex maxilla-lacrimal articulation, in which the lacrimal clasps the ascending ramus of the maxilla; (3) medial edge of caudal sector of maxillary ascending ramus bordering bony nasal aperture with low but distinct ridge; (4) ‘tongue-like’ ventral process of quadratojugal that overlaps quadrate caudally; (5) separate foramina for all three branches of the trigeminal nerve; (6) absence of median venous canal connecting infundibular region to ventral part of brainstem; (7) subvertical premaxillary, procumbent maxillary, and recumbent dentary teeth; (8) cervical vertebrae with ‘strut-like’ centroprezygapophyseal laminae; (9) extremely elongate and slender ossified tendon positioned ventrolateral to cervical vertebrae and ribs. The cranial endocast of Sarmientosaurus preserves some of the most complete information obtained to date regarding the brain and sensory systems of sauropods. Phylogenetic analysis recovers the new taxon as a basal member of Lithostrotia, as the most plesiomorphic titanosaurian to be preserved with a complete skull. Sarmientosaurus provides a wealth of new cranial evidence that reaffirms the close relationship of titanosaurs to Brachiosauridae. Moreover, the presence of the relatively derived lithostrotian Tapuiasaurus in Aptian deposits indicates that the new Patagonian genus represents a ‘ghost lineage’ with a comparatively plesiomorphic craniodental form, the evolutionary history of which is missing for at least 13 million years of the Cretaceous. The skull anatomy of Sarmientosaurus suggests that multiple titanosaurian species with dissimilar cranial structures coexisted in the early Late Cretaceous of southern South America. Furthermore, the new taxon possesses a number of distinctive morphologies-such as the ossified cervical tendon, extremely pneumatized cervical vertebrae, and a habitually downward-facing snout-that have rarely, if ever, been documented in other titanosaurs, thus broadening our understanding of the anatomical diversity of this remarkable sauropod clade. The latter two features were convergently acquired by at least one penecontemporaneous diplodocoid, and may represent mutual specializations for consuming low-growing vegetation.

Concepts: Skull, Cranial nerves, Cretaceous, Patagonia, Sauropoda, Dinosaur, Titanosaur, Maxillary nerve


Titanosaurian sauropod dinosaurs were the most diverse and abundant large-bodied herbivores in the southern continents during the final 30 million years of the Mesozoic Era. Several titanosaur species are regarded as the most massive land-living animals yet discovered; nevertheless, nearly all of these giant titanosaurs are known only from very incomplete fossils, hindering a detailed understanding of their anatomy. Here we describe a new and gigantic titanosaur, Dreadnoughtus schrani, from Upper Cretaceous sediments in southern Patagonia, Argentina. Represented by approximately 70% of the postcranial skeleton, plus craniodental remains, Dreadnoughtus is the most complete giant titanosaur yet discovered, and provides new insight into the morphology and evolutionary history of these colossal animals. Furthermore, despite its estimated mass of about 59.3 metric tons, the bone histology of the Dreadnoughtus type specimen reveals that this individual was still growing at the time of death.

Concepts: Biology, Reptile, Mammal, Cretaceous, Sauropoda, Dinosaur, Titanosaur, Plesiosaur


Titanosauria is an exceptionally diverse, globally-distributed clade of sauropod dinosaurs that includes the largest known land animals. Knowledge of titanosaurian pedal structure is critical to understanding the stance and locomotion of these enormous herbivores and, by extension, gigantic terrestrial vertebrates as a whole. However, completely preserved pedes are extremely rare among Titanosauria, especially as regards the truly giant members of the group. Here we describe Notocolossus gonzalezparejasi gen. et sp. nov. from the Upper Cretaceous of Mendoza Province, Argentina. With a powerfully-constructed humerus 1.76 m in length, Notocolossus is one of the largest known dinosaurs. Furthermore, the complete pes of the new taxon exhibits a strikingly compact, homogeneous metatarsus-seemingly adapted for bearing extraordinary weight-and truncated unguals, morphologies that are otherwise unknown in Sauropoda. The pes underwent a near-progressive reduction in the number of phalanges along the line to derived titanosaurs, eventually resulting in the reduced hind foot of these sauropods.

Concepts: Sauropoda, Dinosaur, Sauropodomorpha, Diplodocus, Saurischia, Titanosaur, Bruhathkayosaurus, Macronaria


Increased excavation of dinosaurs from China over the last two decades has enriched the record of Asian titanosauriform sauropods. However, the relationships of these sauropods remain contentious, and hinges on a few well-preserved taxa, such as Euhelopus zdanskyi. Here we describe a new sauropod, Yongjinglong datangi gen. nov. et sp. nov., from the Lower Cretaceous Hekou Group in the Lanzhou Basin of Gansu Province, northwestern China. Yongjinglong datangi is characterized by the following unique combination of characters, including seven autapomorphies: long-crowned, spoon-shaped premaxillary tooth; axially elongate parapophyses on the cervical vertebra; very deep lateral pneumatic foramina on the lateral surfaces of the cervical and cranial dorsal vertebral centra; low, unbifurcated neural spine fused with the postzygapophyses to form a cranially-pointing, triangular plate in a middle dorsal vertebra; an “XI”-shaped configuration of the laminae on the arches of the middle dorsal vertebrae; a very long scapular blade with straight cranial and caudal edges; and a tall, deep groove on the lateral surface of the distal shaft of the radius. The new specimen shares several features with other sauropods: a pronounced M. triceps longus tubercle on the scapula and ventrolaterally elongated parapophyses in its cervical vertebra as in Euhelopodidae. Based on phylogenetic analyses Yongjinglong datangi is highly derived within Titanosauria, which suggests either a remarkable convergence with more basal titanosauriform sauropods in the Early Cretaceous or a retention of plesiomorphic features that were lost in other titanosaurians. The morphology and remarkable length of the scapulocoracoid reveal an unusual relationship between the shoulder and the middle trunk: the scapulocoracoid spans over half of the length of the trunk. The medial, notch-shaped coracoid foramen and the partially fused scapulocoracoid synostosis suggest that the specimen is a subadult individual. This specimen sheds new light on the diversity of Early Cretaceous Titanosauriformes in China.

Concepts: Vertebral column, Vertebra, Cretaceous, Cervical vertebrae, Sauropoda, Dinosaur, Titanosaur, Euhelopus


Tooth replacement rate can be calculated in extinct animals by counting incremental lines of deposition in tooth dentin. Calculating this rate in several taxa allows for the study of the evolution of tooth replacement rate. Sauropod dinosaurs, the largest terrestrial animals that ever evolved, exhibited a diversity of tooth sizes and shapes, but little is known about their tooth replacement rates.

Concepts: Conservation biology, Evolution, Fungus, Ecology, Animal, Extinction, Sauropoda, Dinosaur


Brachiosauridae is a clade of titanosauriform sauropod dinosaurs that includes the well-known Late Jurassic taxa Brachiosaurus and Giraffatitan. However, there is disagreement over the brachiosaurid affinities of most other taxa, and little consensus regarding the clade’s composition or inter-relationships. An unnamed partial sauropod skeleton was collected from middle-late Oxfordian (early Late Jurassic) deposits in Damparis, in the Jura department of eastern France, in 1934. Since its brief description in 1943, this specimen has been informally known in the literature as the ‘Damparis sauropod’ and ‘French Bothriospondylus’, and has been considered a brachiosaurid by most authors. If correctly identified, this would make the specimen the earliest known titanosauriform. Coupled with its relatively complete nature and the rarity of Oxfordian sauropod remains in general, this is an important specimen for understanding the early evolution of Titanosauriformes. Full preparation and description of this specimen, known from teeth, vertebrae and most of the appendicular skeleton of a single individual, recognises it as a distinct taxon: Vouivria damparisensis gen. et sp. nov. Phylogenetic analysis of a data matrix comprising 77 taxa (including all putative brachiosaurids) scored for 416 characters recovers a fairly well resolved Brachiosauridae. Vouivria is a basal brachiosaurid, confirming its status as the stratigraphically oldest known titanosauriform. Brachiosauridae consists of a paraphyletic array of Late Jurassic forms, with Europasaurus, Vouivria and Brachiosaurus recovered as successively more nested genera that lie outside of a clade comprising (Giraffatitan + Sonorasaurus) + (Lusotitan + (Cedarosaurus + Venenosaurus)). Abydosaurus forms an unresolved polytomy with the latter five taxa. The Early Cretaceous South American sauropod Padillasaurus was previously regarded as a brachiosaurid, but is here placed within Somphospondyli. A recent study contended that a number of characters used in a previous iteration of this data matrix are ‘biologically related’, and thus should be excluded from phylogenetic analysis. We demonstrate that almost all of these characters show variation between taxa, and implementation of sensitivity analyses, in which these characters are excluded, has no effect on tree topology or resolution. We argue that where there is morphological variation, this should be captured, rather than ignored. Unambiguous brachiosaurid remains are known only from the USA, western Europe and Africa, and the clade spanned the Late Jurassic through to the late Albian/early Cenomanian, with the last known occurrences all from the USA. Regardless of whether their absence from the Cretaceous of Europe, as well as other regions entirely, reflects regional extinctions and genuine absences, or sampling artefacts, brachiosaurids appear to have become globally extinct by the earliest Late Cretaceous.

Concepts: Cretaceous, Sauropoda, Dinosaur, Jurassic, Brachiosaurus, Macronaria, Brachiosauridae, Giraffatitan


High megaherbivore species richness is documented in both fossil and contemporary ecosystems despite their high individual energy requirements. An extreme example of this is the Late Jurassic Morrison Formation, which was dominated by sauropod dinosaurs, the largest known terrestrial vertebrates. High sauropod diversity within the resource-limited Morrison is paradoxical, but might be explicable through sophisticated resource partitioning. This hypothesis was tested through finite-element analysis of the crania of the Morrison taxa Camarasaurus and Diplodocus. Results demonstrate divergent specialization, with Camarasaurus capable of exerting and accommodating greater bite forces than Diplodocus, permitting consumption of harder food items. Analysis of craniodental biomechanical characters taken from 35 sauropod taxa demonstrates a functional dichotomy in terms of bite force, cranial robustness and occlusal relationships yielding two polyphyletic functional ‘grades’. Morrison taxa are widely distributed within and between these two morphotypes, reflecting distinctive foraging specializations that formed a biomechanical basis for niche partitioning between them. This partitioning, coupled with benefits associated with large body size, would have enabled the high sauropod diversities present in the Morrison Formation. Further, this provides insight into the mechanisms responsible for supporting the high diversities of large megaherbivores observed in other Mesozoic and Cenozoic communities, particularly those occurring in resource-limited environments.

Concepts: Sauropoda, Dinosaur, Diplodocus, Jurassic, Brachiosaurus, Camarasaurus, Allosaurus, Morrison Formation