Welcome to our new Research Highlights blog series! A new post series in which we highlight recent noteworthy studies from across PLOS…
Hey folks! Sarah here. Since this weekend is a holiday in the United States, I’m throwing together this latest list of paleontological research quickly. I hope you all are recovering from your Thanksgiving dinosaur carcass consumption coma and getting ready to embrace a chilly winter (at least in the northern hemisphere)!
Here is a list of the fantastic paleontological and paleo-adjacent research published in PLOS journals this month!
Testing Species Assignments in Extant Terebratulide Brachiopods: A Three-dimensional Geometric Morphometric Analysis of Long-Looped Brachidia
Authors: Natalia López Carranza, Sandra J. Carlson
Abstract: Species of terebratulide brachiopods have been largely characterized qualitatively on the basis of morphology. Furthermore, species-level morphological variability has rarely been analyzed within a quantitative framework. The objective of our research is to quantify morphological variation to test the validity of extant named species of terebratulide brachiopods, focusing on the lophophore-supporting structures—the “long loops.” Long loops are the most distinctive and complex morphological feature in terebratellidine brachiopods and are considered to be phylogenetically and taxonomically informative. We studied eight species with problematic species identities in three genera distributed in the North Pacific: Laqueus, Terebratalia, and Dallinella. Given how geometrically complex long loops are, we generated 3D models from computed tomography (CT) scans of specimens of these eight species and analyzed them using 3D geometric morphometrics. Our goal was to determine ranges of variation and to test whether species are clearly distinguishable from one another in morphospace and statistically. Previous studies have suggested that some species might be overly split and are indistinguishable. Our results show that these extant species of terebratellidines can be reliably distinguished on the basis of quantitative loop morphometrics. Using 3D geometric morphometric methods, we demonstrate the utility of CT beyond purely descriptive imaging purposes in testing the morphometric validity of named species. It is crucial to treat species described and named from qualitative morphology as working hypotheses to be tested; many macroevolutionary studies depend upon the accurate assessment of species in order to identify and seek to explain macroevolutionary patterns. Our results provide quantitative documentation of the distinction of these species and thus engender greater confidence in their use to characterize macroevolutionary patterns among extant terebratellidine brachiopods. These methods, however, require further testing in extinct terebratellidines, which only rarely preserve the delicate long loop in three dimensions. In addition, molecular analyses of extant terebratellidines will test the species delimitations supported by the morphometric analyses presented in this study. [Species determination; morphological variability; 3D geometric morphometrics; terebratulide brachiopods; long loops.]
Dacentrurine stegosaurs (Dinosauria): A new specimen of Miragaia longicollum from the Late Jurassic of Portugal resolves taxonomical validity and shows the occurrence of the clade in North America
Authors: Francisco Costa, Octávio Mateus
Abstract: The stegosaur species Miragaia longicollum was erected based on a partial anterior skeleton from the Upper Jurassic of Portugal. Until then, almost all stegosaur specimens in Portugal and Spain had been identified as Dacentrurus armatus, the sister taxon of M. longicollum and only other member of the clade Dacentrurinae. The holotypes of the two species have little overlap, since the holotype of D. armatus is mostly a posterior skeleton, so the classification of other specimens to either species is unclear and the validity of M. longicollum has been questioned and debated. Here we describe a largely complete specimen of M. longicollum discovered in 1959 in Atouguia da Baleia, Peniche, Portugal, consisting of both anterior and posterior portions of the skeleton. Comparisons to the holotypes of dacentrurines and other stegosaurs shed light on the convoluted relationships of this group. We conclude that M. longicollum is valid and rather different from D. armatus, and provide a revised diagnosis of M. longicollum, as well as revised diagnoses for D. armatus, Dacentrurinae, and the first diagnosis of the genus Miragaia, granting stability to these taxa and allowing new considerations to be given on the classification of other Iberian stegosaurs. This new specimen is, to date, the most complete dinosaur described from Portugal and the most complete stegosaur described from Europe. Miragaia shared anatomical features that show a close affinity to Alcovasaurus longispinus, confirming this to be the first known dacentrurine stegosaur in America, coherent with the hypothesis of an ephemeral land bridge between North America and Iberia that allowed faunal exchange.
Authors: Michael D. D’Emic, Patrick M. O’Connor, Thomas R. Pascucci, Joanna N. Gavras, Elizabeth Mardakhayava, Eric K. Lund
Abstract: Tooth replacement rate is an important contributor to feeding ecology for polyphyodont animals. Dinosaurs exhibit a wide range of tooth replacement rates, mirroring their diverse craniofacial specializations, but little is known about broad-scale allometric or evolutionary patterns within the group. In the current broad but sparse dinosaurian sample, only three non-avian theropod tooth replacement rates have been estimated. We estimated tooth formation and replacement rates in three additional non-avian theropod dinosaurs, the derived latest Cretaceous abelisaurid Majungasaurus and the more generalized Late Jurassic Allosaurus and Ceratosaurus. We created the largest dental histological and CT dataset for any theropod dinosaur, sectioning and scanning over a dozen toothed elements of Majungasaurus and several additional elements from the other two genera. Using this large sample, we created models of tooth formation time that allow for theropod replacement rates to be estimated non-destructively. In contrast to previous results for theropods, we found high tooth replacement rates in all three genera, with Allosaurus and Ceratosaurus rates of ~100 days and 56 days for Majungasaurus. The latter rate is on par with those of derived herbivorous dinosaurs including some neosauropods, hadrosaurids, and ceratopsians. This elevated rate may be a response to high rates of tooth wear in Majungasaurus. Within Dinosauria, there is no relationship between body mass and tooth replacement rate and no trends in replacement rate over time. Rather, tooth replacement rate is clade-specific, with elevated rates in abelisaurids and diplodocoids and lower rates in coelurosaurs.
A new early Eocene deperetellid tapiroid illuminates the origin of Deperetellidae and the pattern of premolar molarization in Perissodactyla
Authors: Bin Bai, Jin Meng, Fang-Yuan Mao, Zhao-Qun Zhang, Yuan-Qing Wang
Deperetellidae is a clade of peculiar, Asian endemic tapiroids from the early and middle Eocene. The previously published material mainly comprises maxillae, mandibles, and some postcranial elements. However, the absence of cranial materials and primitive representatives of the deperetellids obscures their phylogenetic relationships within Tapiroidea. Furthermore, derived deperetellids have completely molarized premolars, but the pattern of their evolution remains unclear. Here, we report a nearly complete skull and some carpals of a new basal deperetellid tapiroid, Irenolophus qii gen. et sp. nov., from the late early Eocene of the Erlian Basin, Inner Mongolia, China. We suggest that deperetellids (along with Tapiridae) probably also arose from some basal ‘helaletids’, based on the reduced, flat, lingually depressed metacones on the upper molars, the trend towards the bilophodonty on the lower molars, and a shallow narial notch with the premaxilla in contact with the nasal. The molarization of the premolars in Deperetellidae from Irenolophus through Teleolophus to Deperetella was initiated and gradually enhanced by the separation between the paraconule and the protocone. That pattern differs from the protocone-hypocone separation in helaletids, tapirids, and most rhinoceroses, and the metaconule-derived pseudohypocone in amynodontids. However, the specific relationship of deperetellids within Tapiroidea and the roles of different patterns of premolar molarization in perissodactyl evolution need further and comprehensive study.
Inbreeding, Allee effects and stochasticity might be sufficient to account for Neanderthal extinction
Authors: Krist Vaesen, Fulco Scherjon, Lia Hemerik, Alexander Verpoorte
Abstract: The replacement of Neanderthals by Anatomically Modern Humans has typically been attributed to environmental pressure or a superiority of modern humans with respect to competition for resources. Here we present two independent models that suggest that no such heatedly debated factors might be needed to account for the demise of Neanderthals. Starting from the observation that Neanderthal populations already were small before the arrival of modern humans, the models implement three factors that conservation biology identifies as critical for a small population’s persistence, namely inbreeding, Allee effects and stochasticity. Our results indicate that the disappearance of Neanderthals might have resided in the smallness of their population(s) alone: even if they had been identical to modern humans in their cognitive, social and cultural traits, and even in the absence of inter-specific competition, Neanderthals faced a considerable risk of extinction. Furthermore, we suggest that if modern humans contributed to the demise of Neanderthals, that contribution might have had nothing to do with resource competition, but rather with how the incoming populations geographically restructured the resident populations, in a way that reinforced Allee effects, and the effects of inbreeding and stochasticity.
Authors: Kristin L. Krueger, John C. Willman, Gregory J. Matthews, Jean-Jacques Hublin, Alejandro Pérez-Pérez
Abstract: Early modern humans (EMH) are often touted as behaviorally advanced to Neandertals, with more sophisticated technologies, expanded resource exploitation, and more complex clothing production. However, recent analyses have indicated that Neandertals were more nuanced in their behavioral adaptations, with the production of the Châtelperronian technocomplex, the processing and cooking of plant foods, and differences in behavioral adaptations according to habitat. This study adds to this debate by addressing the behavioral strategies of EMH (n = 30) within the context of non-dietary anterior tooth-use behaviors to glean possible differences between them and their Neandertal (n = 45) counterparts. High-resolution casts of permanent anterior teeth were used to collect microwear textures of fossil and comparative bioarchaeological samples using a Sensofar white-light confocal profiler with a 100x objective lens. Labial surfaces were scanned, totaling a work envelope of 204 x 276 μm for each individual. The microwear textures were examined for post-mortem damage and uploaded to SSFA software packages for surface characterization. Statistical analyses were performed to examine differences in central tendencies and distributions of anisotropy and textural fill volume variables among the EMH sample itself by habitat, location, and time interval, and between the EMH and Neandertal samples by habitat and location. Descriptive statistics for the EMH sample were compared to seven bioarchaeological samples (n = 156) that utilized different tooth-use behaviors to better elucidate specific activities that may have been performed by EMH. Results show no significant differences between the means within the EMH sample by habitat, location, or time interval. Furthermore, there are no significant differences found here between EMH and Neandertals. Comparisons to the bioarchaeological samples suggest both fossil groups participated in clamping and grasping activities. These results indicate that EMH and Neandertals were similar in their non-dietary anterior tooth-use behaviors and provide additional evidence for overlapping behavioral strategies employed by these two hominins.