Skull remains of the dinosaur Saturnalia tupiniquim (Late Triassic, Brazil): With comments on the early evolution of sauropodomorph feeding behaviour.PLoS One. 2019; 14(9):e0221387.Plos
Saturnalia tupiniquim is a sauropodomorph dinosaur from the Late Triassic (Carnian-c. 233 Ma) Santa Maria Formation of Brazil. Due to its phylogenetic position and age, it is important for studies focusing on the early evolution of both dinosaurs and sauropodomorphs. The osteology of Saturnalia has been described in a series of papers, but its cranial anatomy remains mostly unknown. Here, we describe the skull bones of one of its paratypes (only in the type-series to possess such remains) based on CT Scan data. The newly described elements allowed estimating the cranial length of Saturnalia and provide additional support for the presence of a reduced skull (i.e. two thirds of the femoral length) in this taxon, as typical of later sauropodomorphs. Skull reduction in Saturnalia could be related to an increased efficiency for predatory feeding behaviour, allowing fast movements of the head in order to secure small and elusive prey, a hypothesis also supported by data from its tooth and brain morphology. A principal co-ordinates analysis of the sauropodomorph jaw feeding apparatus shows marked shifts in morphospace occupation in different stages of the first 30 million years of their evolutionary history. One of these shifts is observed between non-plateosaurian and plateosaurian sauropodomorphs, suggesting that, despite also having an omnivorous diet, the feeding behaviour of some early Carnian sauropodomorphs, such as Saturnalia, was markedly different from that of later Triassic taxa. A second shift, between Late Triassic and Early Jurassic taxa, is congruent with a floral turnover hypothesis across the Triassic-Jurassic boundary.