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Concept: Dicynodont


Studies of the effects of mass extinctions on ancient ecosystems have focused on changes in taxic diversity, morphological disparity, abundance, behaviour and resource availability as key determinants of group survival. Crucially, the contribution of life history traits to survival during terrestrial mass extinctions has not been investigated, despite the critical role of such traits for population viability. We use bone microstructure and body size data to investigate the palaeoecological implications of changes in life history strategies in the therapsid forerunners of mammals before and after the Permo-Triassic Mass Extinction (PTME), the most catastrophic crisis in Phanerozoic history. Our results are consistent with truncated development, shortened life expectancies, elevated mortality rates and higher extinction risks amongst post-extinction species. Various simulations of ecological dynamics indicate that an earlier onset of reproduction leading to shortened generation times could explain the persistence of therapsids in the unpredictable, resource-limited Early Triassic environments, and help explain observed body size distributions of some disaster taxa (e.g., Lystrosaurus). Our study accounts for differential survival in mammal ancestors after the PTME and provides a methodological framework for quantifying survival strategies in other vertebrates during major biotic crises.

Concepts: Dicynodont, Extinction, Triassic, Permian–Triassic extinction event, Extinction event, Synapsid, Ecology, Dinosaur


Based on specimens previously identified as Tropidostoma, a new taxon of dicynodont (Bulbasaurus phylloxyron gen. et sp. nov.) from the Karoo Basin of South Africa is described. Bulbasaurus is a medium-sized dicynodont (maximum dorsal skull length 16.0 cm) restricted to the Tropidostoma Assemblage Zone (early Lopingian) of the Beaufort Group. Bulbasaurus can be distinguished from Tropidostoma by an array of characters including the presence of a tall, sharp premaxillary ridge, large, rugose, nearly-confluent nasal bosses, a nasofrontal ridge, massive tusks, robust pterygoids, prominently twisted subtemporal bar, and absence of a distinct postfrontal. Inclusion of Bulbasaurus in a phylogenetic analysis of anomodont therapsids recovers it as a member of Geikiidae, a clade of otherwise later Permian dicynodonts such as Aulacephalodon and Pelanomodon. Bulbasaurus exhibits many of the characters typical of adult Aulacephalodon, but at substantially smaller skull size (these characters are absent in comparably-sized Aulacephalodon juveniles), suggesting that the evolution of typical geikiid morphology preceded gigantism in the clade. Bulbasaurus is the earliest known geikiid and the only member of the group known from the Tropidostoma Assemblage Zone; discovery of this taxon shortens a perplexing ghost lineage and indicates that abundant clades from the later Permian of South Africa (e.g., Geikiidae, Dicynodontoidea) may have originated as rare components of earlier Karoo assemblage zones.

Concepts: Beaufort Group, Anomodont, Therapsida, South Africa, Cladistics, Phylogenetic nomenclature, Dicynodont, Synapsid


Dicynodontia represent the most diverse tetrapod group during the Late Permian. They survived the Permo-Triassic extinction and are central to understanding Permo-Triassic terrestrial ecosystems. Although extensively studied, several aspects of dicynodont paleobiology such as, neuroanatomy, inner ear morphology and internal cranial anatomy remain obscure. Here we describe a new dicynodont (Therapsida, Anomodontia) from northern Mozambique: Niassodon mfumukasi gen. et sp. nov. The holotype ML1620 was collected from the Late Permian K5 formation, Metangula Graben, Niassa Province northern Mozambique, an almost completely unexplored basin and country for vertebrate paleontology. Synchrotron radiation based micro-computed tomography (SRµCT), combined with a phylogenetic analysis, demonstrates a set of characters shared with Emydopoidea. All individual bones were digitally segmented allowing a 3D visualization of each element. In addition, we reconstructed the osseous labyrinth, endocast, cranial nerves and vasculature. The brain is narrow and the cerebellum is broader than the forebrain, resembling the conservative, “reptilian-grade” morphology of other non-mammalian therapsids, but the enlarged paraflocculi occupy the same relative volume as in birds. The orientation of the horizontal semicircular canals indicates a slightly more dorsally tilted head posture than previously assumed in other dicynodonts. In addition, synchrotron data shows a secondary center of ossification in the femur. Thus ML1620 represents, to our knowledge, the oldest fossil evidence of a secondary center of ossification, pushing back the evolutionary origins of this feature. The fact that the specimen represents a new species indicates that the Late Permian tetrapod fauna of east Africa is still incompletely known.

Concepts: Triassic, Inner ear, Permian, Paleontology, Therapsida, Synapsid, Dicynodont, Dinosaur


Dicynodonts were a highly successful group of herbivorous therapsids that inhabited terrestrial ecosystems from the Middle Permian through the end of the Triassic periods. Permian dicynodonts are extremely abundant in African deposits, but are comparatively poorly known from the other regions of Gondwana. Here we describe a new South American dicynodont, Rastodon procurvidens gen. et sp. nov., from the Boqueirão farm site of the Rio do Rasto Formation, Paraná Basin, Guadalupian/Lopingian of Brazil. Diagnostic features of R. procurvidens include uniquely anteriorly-curved maxillary tusks, well-developed ridges extending from the crista oesophagea anteriorly along the pterygoid rami, strong posterior angulation of the posterior pterygoid rami, and a bulbous, well-developed retroarticular process of the articular. Phylogenetic analysis indicates that R. procurvidens is the earliest and most basal member of Bidentalia, a cosmopolitan clade that includes Permian and Triassic dicynodonts whose dentition is usually reduced to a pair of maxillary tusks.

Concepts: Mesozoic, Therocephalia, Permian, Anomodont, Triassic, Synapsid, Therapsida, Dicynodont


The large dicynodont Eubrachiosaurus browni from the Upper Triassic Popo Agie Formation of Wyoming is redescribed. Eubrachiosaurus is a valid taxon that differs from Placerias hesternus, with which it was previously synonymized, by greater anteroposterior expansion of the scapula dorsally and a very large, nearly rectangular humeral ectepicondyle with a broad supinator process. Inclusion of Eubrachiosaurus in a revised phylogenetic analysis of anomodont therapsids indicates that it is a stahleckeriid closely related to the South American genera Ischigualastia and Jachaleria. The recognition of Eubrachiosaurus as a distinct lineage of North American dicynodonts, combined with other recent discoveries in the eastern USA and Europe, alters our perception of Late Triassic dicynodont diversity in the northern hemisphere. Rather than being isolated relicts in previously therapsid-dominated regions, Late Triassic stahleckeriid dicynodonts were continuing to disperse and diversify, even in areas like western North America that were otherwise uninhabited by coeval therapsids (i.e., cynodonts).

Concepts: Dinosaur, Triassic, Dicynodont, Anomodont, United States, Therapsida, North America, South America


The semicircular canal (SC) system of the inner ear detects head angular accelerations and is essential for navigation and spatial awareness in vertebrates. Because the bony labyrinth encloses the membranous labyrinth SCs, it can be used as a proxy for animal behavior. The bony labyrinth of dicynodonts, a clade of herbivorous non-mammalian synapsids, has only been described in a handful of individuals and remains particularly obscure. Here we describe the bony labyrinth anatomy of three Endothiodon cf. bathystoma specimens from Mozambique based on digital reconstructions from propagation phase-contrast synchrotron micro-computed tomography. We compare these findings with the bony labyrinth anatomy of their close relative Niassodon. The bony labyrinths of Endothiodon and Niassodon are relatively similar and show only differences in the shape of the horizontal SCs and the orientation of the vertical SCs. When compared to extant mammals, Endothiodon and Niassodon have highly eccentric SCs. In addition, the Endothiodon SCs are nearly orthogonal. An eccentric and orthogonal SC morphology is consistent with a specialization in rapid head movements, which are typical of foraging or feeding behaviors. Furthermore, we estimate the body mass of these Endothiodon specimens at ~116 to 182 kg, based on the average SC radii calculated using a linear regression model optimized by the Amemiya Prediction Criterion. Our findings provide novel insights into the paleobiology of Endothiodon which are consistent with the peculiar feeding mechanism among dicynodonts presumed from their multiple postcanine toothrows.

Concepts: Biology, Dicynodont, Therapsida, Linear regression, Ear, Mammal, Regression analysis, Synapsid


A major macroevolutionary question concerns how long-term patterns of body-size evolution are underpinned by smaller scale processes along lineages. One outstanding long-term transition is the replacement of basal therapsids (stem-group mammals) by archosauromorphs, including dinosaurs, as the dominant large-bodied terrestrial fauna during the Triassic (approx. 252-201 million years ago). This landmark event preceded more than 150 million years of archosauromorph dominance. We analyse a new body-size dataset of more than 400 therapsid and archosauromorph species spanning the Late Permian-Middle Jurassic. Maximum-likelihood analyses indicate that Cope’s rule (an active within-lineage trend of body-size increase) is extremely rare, despite conspicuous patterns of body-size turnover, and contrary to proposals that Cope’s rule is central to vertebrate evolution. Instead, passive processes predominate in taxonomically and ecomorphologically more inclusive clades, with stasis common in less inclusive clades. Body-size limits are clade-dependent, suggesting intrinsic, biological factors are more important than the external environment. This clade-dependence is exemplified by maximum size of Middle-early Late Triassic archosauromorph predators exceeding that of contemporary herbivores, breaking a widely-accepted ‘rule’ that herbivore maximum size greatly exceeds carnivore maximum size. Archosauromorph and dinosaur dominance occurred via opportunistic replacement of therapsids following extinction, but were facilitated by higher archosauromorph growth rates.

Concepts: Dicynodont, Bird, Synapsid, Archosauromorpha, Triassic, Reptile, Animal, Dinosaur


Anomodontia was the most successful herbivorous clade of the mammalian stem lineage (non-mammalian synapsids) during the late Permian and Early Triassic. Among anomodonts, Dicynodontia stands apart because of the presence of an osseous beak that shows evidence of the insertion of a cornified sheath, the ramphotheca. In this study, fourteen anomodont specimens were microCT-scanned and their trigeminal canals reconstructed digitally to understand the origin and evolution of trigeminal nerve innervation of the ramphotheca. We show that the pattern of innervation of the anomodont “beak” is more similar to that in chelonians (the nasopalatine branch is enlarged and innervates the premaxillary part of the ramphotheca) than in birds (where the nasopalatine and maxillary branches play minor roles). The nasopalatine branch is noticeably enlarged in the beak-less basal anomodont Patranomodon, suggesting that this could be an anomodont or chainosaur synapomorphy. Our analyses suggest that the presence or absence of tusks and postcanine teeth are often accompanied by corresponding variations of the rami innervating the caniniform process and the alveolar region, respectively. The degree of ossification of the canal for the nasal ramus of the ophthalmic branch also appears to correlate with the presence of a nasal boss. The nasopalatine canal is absent from the premaxilla in the Bidentalia as they uniquely show a large plexus formed by the internal nasal branch of the maxillary canal instead. The elongated shape of this plexus in Lystrosaurus supports the hypothesis that the rostrum evolved as an elongation of the subnarial region of the snout. Finally, the atrophied and variable aspect of the trigeminal canals in Myosaurus supports the hypothesis that this genus had a reduced upper ramphotheca.

Concepts: Maxilla, Triassic, Ophthalmic nerve, Maxillary nerve, Therapsida, Anomodont, Dicynodont, Synapsid