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Hoffmann S.,State University of New York at Stony Brook | O'connor P.M.,Ohio University | O'connor P.M.,Ohio Center for Ecology and Evolutionary Studies | Kirk E.C.,University of Texas at Austin | And 2 more authors.
Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology | Year: 2014

We present the first digital reconstruction of the endocranial cavity and endosseous labyrinth of the Late Cretaceous gondwanatherian mammal Vintana sertichi from the Maevarano Formation of Madagascar. The Malagasy specimen is exceptionally well preserved and represents the only described cranium known for Gondwanatheria, an enigmatic clade from the Late Cretaceous and Paleogene of Gondwana. The endocranial cast of Vintana is relatively small for an animal of its estimated body mass. Its encephalization quotient is 0.28-0.56 for a range of body mass estimates, which is similar to that of basal mammaliaforms. The olfactory bulbs are very large, occupying over 14% of the endocranial volume. The cerebral hemispheres are only slightly expanded, more similar to the condition in Morganucodon than to that in multituberculates and monotremes. Unlike the condition in other Mesozoic mammaliaforms, the endocast is greatly flexed at the circular fissure. The osseous labyrinth displays a mixture of derived and primitive features. The cochlear canal is only slightly curved and short compared with that of extant therians. The ratio between total cochlear canal length and maximum cranial length is smaller than in basal mammaliaforms and approximates that of non-mammaliaform cynodonts. By contrast, the presence of both primary and secondary osseous laminae, the tractus foraminosus, and Rosenthal's canal represent derived characteristics of the mammalian inner ear typical of cladotherians. A modern innervation of the cochlea has either evolved independently in Vintana and cladotherians or was already present in the last common ancestor of both clades. © 2014 by the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Roberts E.M.,James Cook University | Stevens N.J.,Ohio University | Stevens N.J.,Ohio Center for Ecology and Evolutionary Studies | O'Connor P.M.,Ohio University | And 8 more authors.
Nature Geoscience | Year: 2012

The East African Rift System transects the anomalously high-elevation Ethiopian and East African plateaux that together form part of the 6,000-km-long African superswell structure. Rifting putatively developed as a result of mantle plume activity that initiated under eastern Africa. The mantle activity has caused topographic uplift that has been connected to African Cenozoic climate change and faunal evolution. The rift is traditionally interpreted to be composed of two distinct segments: an older, volcanically active eastern branch and a younger, less volcanic western branch. Here, we show that initiation of rifting in the western branch began more than 14 million years earlier than previously thought, contemporaneously with the eastern branch. We use a combination of detrital zircon geochronology, tephro- and magnetostratigraphy, along with analyses of past river flow recorded in sedimentary rocks from the Rukwa Rift Basin, Tanzania, to constrain the timing of rifting, magmatism and drainage development in this part of the western branch. We find that rift-related volcanism and lake development had begun by about 25 million years ago. These events were preceded by pediment development and a fluvial drainage reversal that we suggest records the onset of topographic uplift caused by the African superswell. We conclude that uplift of eastern Africa was more widespread and synchronous than previously recognized. © 2012 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved.

Ratsimbaholison N.O.,University of Antananarivo | Ratsimbaholison N.O.,Ohio Center for Ecology and Evolutionary Studies | Felice R.N.,Ohio Center for Ecology and Evolutionary Studies | Felice R.N.,Ohio University | And 3 more authors.
Acta Palaeontologica Polonica | Year: 2016

Abelisaurid theropods were one of the most diverse groups of predatory dinosaurs in Gondwana during the Cretaceous. The group is characterized by a tall, wide skull and robust cervical region. This morphology is thought to have facilitated specialized feeding behaviors such as prolonged contact with prey. The Late Cretaceous abelisaurid Majungasaurus crenatissimus typifies this abelisaurid cranial morphotype. Recent fossil discoveries of this species include a partial growth series that allows for the first time an investigation of ontogenetic variation in cranial morphology in a representative abelisaurid. Herein we examine growth trajectories in the shape of individual cranial bones and articulated skulls of Majungasaurus using geometric morphometrics. Several major changes in skull shape were observed through ontogeny, including an increase in the height of the jugal, postorbital, and quadratojugal, an increase in the extent of the contacts between bones, and a decrease in the circumference of the orbit. The skull transitions from relatively short in the smallest individual to tall and robust in large adults, as is seen in other theropods. Such morphological change during ontogeny would likely have resulted in different biomechanical properties and feeding behaviors between small and large individuals. These findings provide a post-hatching developmental framework for understanding the evolution of the distinctive tall skull morphology seen in abelisaurids and other large-sized theropod dinosaurs. © 2016 N.O. Ratsimbaholison et al.

Gorscak E.,Ohio University | Gorscak E.,Ohio Center for Ecology and Evolutionary Studies | O'Connor P.M.,Ohio Center for Ecology and Evolutionary Studies | O'Connor P.M.,Heritage University | And 3 more authors.
Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology | Year: 2014

Whereas titanosaurians represent the most diverse and cosmopolitan clade of Cretaceous sauropod dinosaurs, they remain rare components of Cretaceous African faunas. Currently recognized continental African titanosaurians include Aegyptosaurus baharijensis and Paralititan stromeri from early Upper Cretaceous deposits near Bahariya Oasis, Egypt, and Malawisaurus dixeyi and Karongasaurus gittelmani from the Lower Cretaceous (∼Aptian) Dinosaur Beds of Malawi, in addition to several undesignated and fragmentary forms across the continent. Here, we describe a new titanosaurian taxon, Rukwatitan bisepultus, on the basis of a partial, semiarticulated postcranial skeleton recovered from the middle Cretaceous Galula Formation in southwestern Tanzania. Unique to Rukwatitan are carotid processes on posterior cervical vertebrae, a deep coracobrachialis fossa and subquadrangular cross-section of the humerus, and a slender, curved, teardrop-shaped pubic peduncle on the ilium. Parsimony and Bayesian phylogenetic analyses of 35 sauropod taxa congruently place Rukwatitan as a non-lithostrotian titanosaurian, a relationship supported by cervical vertebrae with undivided pleurocoels and strongly procoelous anterior caudal vertebrae. Rukwatitan differs from the potentially penecontemporaneous and geographically proximate Malawisaurus by exhibiting weakly developed chevron articulations and posteriorly inclined neural spines on the middle caudal vertebrae, a proximally robust and distally unexpanded humerus, and an anteroventrally elongated coracoid. Similar to biogeographic patterns identified in certain crocodyliform clades (e.g., small-bodied notosuchians), titanosaurians on continental Africa appear to exhibit a regional (e.g., southern versus northern Africa), rather than a continental-or supercontinental-level signal.SUPPLEMENTAL DATA-Supplemental materials are available for this article for free at www.tandfonline.com/UJVP © 2014 by the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Gorscak E.,Ohio University | Gorscak E.,Ohio Center for Ecology and Evolutionary Studies | O'Connor P.M.,Ohio Center for Ecology and Evolutionary Studies | O'Connor P.M.,Heritage University
Biology Letters | Year: 2016

Recentmodel-based phylogenetic approaches have expanded upon the incorporation of extinct lineages and their respective temporal information for calibrating divergence date estimates. Here, model-based methods are explored to estimate divergence dates and ancestral ranges for titanosaurian sauropod dinosaurs, an extinct and globally distributed terrestrial clade that existed during the extensive Cretaceous supercontinental break-up.Ourmodels estimate an Early Cretaceous (approx. 135 Ma) South American origin for Titanosauria. The estimated divergence dates are broadly congruent with Cretaceous geophysical models of supercontinental separation and subsequent continental isolation while obviating the invocation of continuous Late Cretaceous continental connections (e.g. ephemeral land bridges). Divergence dates for mid-Cretaceous African and South American sister lineages support semi-isolated subequatorial African faunas in concordance with the gradual northward separation between South America and Africa. Finally, Late Cretaceous Africa may have linked Laurasian lineages with their sister South American lineages, though the current Late Cretaceous African terrestrial fossil record remains meagre. © 2016 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.

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