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Paleo in PLOS: October 2019

Featured image: reconstruction of a Late Cretaceous dinosaur tracksite in Alaska. From Fiorillo et al. (2019), see below

Happy Halloween! PLOS has seen a lot of activity in the paleo realm this month, including a lot of exciting discoveries! So let’s dive right into the latest published research across all PLOS journals….


Competition-driven evolution of organismal complexity

Authors: Iaroslav Ispolatov, Evgeniia Alekseeva, Michael Doebeli

This paper, published early October in PLOS Computational Biology, approaches a long-discussed concept in evolutionary biology with regard to tempo of diversification. And the fossil record is very important when ascertaining the speed and bursts of evolution that may occur, because we have the beauty of the entire picture, at least for many fossil groups. Concepts like punctuated equilibrium were proposed by paleontologists and supported by the data. This paper takes the idea of punctuated equilibrium further and puts it in a quantitative modeling context, taking into account some of the ecological pressures that might cause novel phenotypic features.


Fossil tabulate corals reveal outcrops of Paleozoic sandstones in the Atlantic Coastal Plain Province, Southeastern USA

Authors: James E. Landmeyer, Francis Tourneur, Julien Denayer, Mikołaj K. Zapalski

In the southeastern US, nearly 350-million-years of rocks, sediments, and fossils are missing in a gap called the Fall Line nonconformity. This paper, published in PLOS ONE, is filling in a gap in the geologic and fossil record in this region with a discovery of a new fossil locality full of lower-to-middle Paleozoic tabulate corals in the Carolina Sandhills. “This discovery of Paleozoic fossils and strata in a region in which they were previously entirely unknown offers a more complete insight into the geologic history of the Southern Appalachian Mountains Region, Carolina Sandhills and updip margin of the Atlantic Coastal Plain Province and extends the previously identified range of Syringophyllidae in North America.”


Comparative analysis of the vertebral pneumatization in pterosaurs (Reptilia: Pterosauria) and extant birds (Avialae: Neornithes)

Authors: Richard Buchmann, Leonardo dos Santos Avilla, Taissa Rodrigues

Birds and pterosaurs have pneumatic bones, which likely evolved in response to their shared flying characters. In this study published in PLOS ONE, the authors carried out a qualitative analysis of the position, size and number of pneumatic foramina of the cervical and thoracic/dorsal vertebrae of pterosaurs and birds, with hopes that it can lend insight into the evolution of this enigmatic trait.


A new carcharodontosaurian theropod (Dinosauria: Saurischia) from the Lower Cretaceous of Thailand

Authors: Duangsuda Chokchaloemwong, Soki Hattori , Elena Cuesta, Pratueng Jintasakul, Masateru Shibata, Yoichi Azuma

This paper published in PLOS ONE introduces us to a new allosauroid theropod from the Lower Cretaceous Khok Kruat Formation of Khorat, Thailand, named Siamraptor suwati. The paper goes into great anatomical and morphological data to support the new species, as well as providing an updated phylogenetic hypothesis of evolutionary relationships, suggesting that Siamraptor is a basal taxon of Carcharodontosauria. This result, combined with the paleobiogeographical implications, could bring new information into the evolutionary history of carcharodontosaurs.


Comparing growth patterns of three species: Similarities and differences

Authors: Norbert Brunner, Manfred Kühleitner, Werner Georg Nowak, Katharina Renner-Martin, Klaus Scheicher

This paper, published in PLOS ONE, asks the question: “did extinct dinosaurs grow faster than modern animals, e.g. birds (modern dinosaurs) and reptiles.” The authors of this study then apply several quantitative models to a variety of organisms, including Tenontosaurus tilletti, Alligator mississippiensis, and the Athens Canadian Random Bred strain of Gallus gallus domesticus. Check out the study for what they found out.


Dinosaur ichnology and sedimentology of the Chignik Formation (Upper Cretaceous), Aniakchak National Monument, southwestern Alaska; Further insights on habitat preferences of high-latitude hadrosaurs

Authors: Anthony R. Fiorillo, Yoshitsugu Kobayashi, Paul J. McCarthy, Tomonori Tanaka, Ronald S. Tykoski, Yuong-Nam Lee, Ryuji Takasaki, Junki Yoshida

I always love a good ichnology paper, and this study, published in PLOS ONE, has some fantastic dinosaur tracks and traces, as well as some key geologic information on Upper Cretaceous deposits in Alaska. This study reports on the discovery of extensive occurrences of Late Cretaceous dinosaur tracks from Aniakchak National Monument of the Alaska Peninsula. They’ve uncovered over 75 new track sites, most of which can be attributed to hadrosaurs, armored dinosaurs, meat-eating dinosaurs, and two kinds of fossil birds. Furthermore, this study is able to recognize the environment that these organisms were walking and generally hanging out relative to the delta, floodplain, and other observable sedimentary facies.


Histological and developmental insights into the herbivorous dentition of tapinocephalid therapsids

Authors: Megan. R. Whitney and Christian A. Sidor

Tapinocephalids were one of the earliest therapsid groups to evolve herbivory, but the structure of the teeth has not been fully studied. Tapinocephalids are an important clade in understanding how animals made the transition to herbivory through their anatomy. And so this study published in PLOS ONE sets out to describe the histology of the jaws and incisors of these therapsids to better understand how they adaptated to herbivory. This study also compares the structure of tapinocephalids to other specialized herbivores among dinosaurs and mammals.

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