|Pisanosaurus mertii depicted as a silesaurid. By Nobu Tamura, retrieved via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).|
Me, a regular and consistent blogger? Surely none of you were ever fooled by this notion. The mood finally strikes again, so why don't I spend a moment catching up on one of the topics I've blogged about before? How are our fabrosaurs faring?
This has the salutary effect of extirpating the ornithischians from the Triassic period altogether, which raises some serious questions about the origin and evolution of this clade of dinosaurs. Such an extensive ghost lineage has led authors to question just why ornithischian fossils are absent (or nearly so) prior to the beginning of the Jurassic. Matthew G. Baron (whose Ornithoscelida paper with other authors  has been blogged to death during my long absence) has mooted a novel concept to explain away this problem, wherein Ornithischia would be nested within Theropoda, using the unusual Late Jurassic dinosaur Chilesaurus as the linchpin. Described initially as a basal tetanuran by Novas et al (2015) when it was described, its taxonomy has remained problematic since its discovery, because of a few features in its skeleton (namely the presence of a toothless premaxilla and some characteristics of the ilium) which closely resemble those of ornithischian dinosaurs. In this paper, Baron, having previously mooted Chilesaurus as the basalmost ornithischian, suggested that Ornithischia might be within Neotheropoda, positing a few different hypotheses at different positions, but generally making the case that such a relationship would both clear up Chilesaurus' taxonomic quandary, and shorten the ornithischian ghost lineage implied by the traditional phylogeny.
Of course, this does pose the issue of an equally long (or longer) ghost lineage, if we are to consider Chilesaurus the basalmost ornithischian, as it would be far removed from the current earliest known ornithischians from the first stages of the Jurassic. A Late Jurassic taxon of probable Tithonian age, Chilesaurus is separated from its purported relatives, the earliest known ornithischians, by around fifty million years, so if it is indeed the basalmost of that group, then the ghost lineage problem seems to remain anyway. Müller et al (2017) were also quick to jump onto the issue, and while one of their analyses (when recalibrated) did find Chilesaurus to be within Ornithischia, they still hedged their bets and concluded that the current data simply is not strong enough to make a sure statement one way or the other.
Where exactly can we place the enigmatic Chilesaurus among the other dinosaurs? Can the ornithischians really be nested among the theropods to explain their absence in the Triassic fossil record? Or are there, in fact, still Triassic ornithischians waiting to be discovered? All of these questions seem to be tied up in each other as of the most recent studies. Supposedly there's a lot more (a lot more) on the Ornithoscelida issue pending publication so, as always... keep an eye on the literature, guys.
- Agnolín, Federico L. and Sebastián Rozadilla. "Phylogenetic reassessment of Pisanosaurus mertii Casamiquela, 1967, a basal dinosauriform from the Late Triassic of Argentina." Journal of Systematic Palaeontology 16.10 (2017): 853-879.
- Baron, Matthew G., David B. Norman, and Paul M. Barrett. "A new hypothesis of dinosaur relationships and early dinosaur evolution." Nature 543 (2017): 501–506.
- Baron, Matthew G. and Paul M. Barrett. "A dinosaur missing-link? Chilesaurus and the early evolution of ornithischian dinosaurs." Biology Letters 13.8 (2017): 20170220.
- Baron, Matthew G. "Pisanosaurus mertii and the Triassic ornithischian crisis: could phylogeny offer a solution?" Historical Biology 31.8 (2017): 967-981.
- Baron, Matthew G. and Paul M. Barrett. "Support for the placement of Chilesaurus within Ornithischia: a reply to Müller et al." Biology Letters 14.3 (2018): 20180002.
- McPhee, Blair W., Emese M. Bordy, Lara Sciscio, and Jonah N. Choiniere. "The sauropodomorph biostratigraphy of the Elliot Formation of southern Africa: Tracking the evolution of Sauropodomorpha across the Triassic–Jurassic boundary." Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 62.3 (2017): 441–465.
- Müller, Rodrigo T., Flávio Augusto Pretto, Leonardo Kerber, Eduardo Silva-Neves, and Sérgio Dias-da-Silva. "Comment on ‘A dinosaur missing-link? Chilesaurus and the early evolution ofornithischian dinosaurs’." Biology Letters 14 (2017): 20170581
- Novas, Fernando E. et al. "An enigmatic plant-eating theropod from the Late Jurassic period of Chile." Nature 522 (2015).