Monday, December 21, 2015

Megaraptorids Dominated the Early Cretaceous Winton Formation Ecology in Australia

The dentary of Australovenator wintonensis (Theropoda, Megaraptoridae); implications for megaraptorid dentition


White et al


Megaraptorid theropods were an enigmatic group of medium-sized predatory dinosaurs, infamous for the hypertrophied claw on the first manual digit. Megaraptorid dentition is largely restricted to isolated teeth found in association with skeletal parts; however, the in situ maxillary dentition of Megaraptor was recently described. A newly discovered right dentary pertaining to the Australovenator holotype preserves in situ dentition, permitting unambiguous characterisation of the dentary tooth morphology. The new jaw is virtually complete, with an overall elongate, shallow profile, and fifteen visible in situ teeth at varying stages of eruption. In situ teeth confirm Australovenator exhibited modest pseudoheterodonty, recurved lateral teeth with a serrate distal carina and reduced mesial carina, similar to other megaraptorids. Australovenator also combines of figure-of-eight basal cross-section with a lanceolate shape due to the presence of labial and lingual depressions and the lingual twist of the distal carina. Computed tomography and three-dimensional imagery provided superior characterisation of the dentary morphology and enabled an accurate reconstruction to a pre-fossilised state. The newly established dental morphology also afforded re-evaluation of isolated theropod teeth discovered at the Australovenator holotype locality and from several additional Winton Formation localities. The isolated Winton teeth are qualitatively and quantitatively similar to the in situ dentary teeth of Australovenator, but are also morphometrically similar to Abelisauridae, Allosauridae, Coelophysoidea, Megalosauridae and basal Tyrannosauroidea. Qualitative characters, however, clearly distinguish the teeth of Australovenator and the isolated Winton teeth from all other theropods. Evidence from teeth suggests megaraptorids were the dominant predators in the Winton Formation, which contrasts with other penecontemporaneous Gondwanan ecosystems.

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