A new basal sauropod from the pre-Toarcian Jurassic of South Africa: evidence of niche-partitioning at the sauropodomorph-sauropod boundary?Sci Rep. 2015 Aug 19; 5:13224.SR
The early evolution of sauropod dinosaurs remains poorly understood, with a paucity of unequivocal sauropod taxa known from the first twenty million years of the Jurassic. Recently, the Early Jurassic of South Africa has yielded an assemblage of dental and post-cranial remains displaying a more apomorphic character suite than any other similarly aged sauropodomorph. These remains are interpreted as a new species of basal sauropod and recovered cladistically as the sister taxon to Vulcanodon +more derived Sauropoda, underscoring its importance for our understanding of this pivotal period of sauropod evolution. Key changes in the dentition, axial skeleton and forelimb of this new species suggest a genuine functional distinction occurring at the sauropodiform-sauropod boundary. With reference to these changes, we propose a scenario in which interdependent refinements of the locomotory and feeding apparatus occurred in tandem with, or were effected by, restrictions in the amount of vertical forage initially available to the earliest sauropods. The hypothesized instance of niche-partitioning between basal sauropodan taxa and higher-browsing non-sauropodan sauropodomorphs may partially explain the rarity of true sauropods in the basal rocks of the Jurassic, while having the added corollary of couching the origins of Sauropoda in terms of an ecologically delimited 'event'.