Africa's oldest dinosaurs reveal early suppression of dinosaur distribution.Nature. 2022 09; 609(7926):313-319.Nat
The vertebrate lineages that would shape Mesozoic and Cenozoic terrestrial ecosystems originated across Triassic Pangaea1-11. By the Late Triassic (Carnian stage, ~235 million years ago), cosmopolitan 'disaster faunas' (refs. 12-14) had given way to highly endemic assemblages12,13 on the supercontinent. Testing the tempo and mode of the establishment of this endemism is challenging-there were few geographic barriers to dispersal across Pangaea during the Late Triassic. Instead, palaeolatitudinal climate belts, and not continental boundaries, are proposed to have controlled distribution15-18. During this time of high endemism, dinosaurs began to disperse and thus offer an opportunity to test the timing and drivers of this biogeographic pattern. Increased sampling can test this prediction: if dinosaurs initially dispersed under palaeolatitudinal-driven endemism, then an assemblage similar to those of South America4,19-21 and India19,22-including the earliest dinosaurs-should be present in Carnian deposits in south-central Africa. Here we report a new Carnian assemblage from Zimbabwe that includes Africa's oldest definitive dinosaurs, including a nearly complete skeleton of the sauropodomorph Mbiresaurus raathi gen. et sp. nov. This assemblage resembles other dinosaur-bearing Carnian assemblages, suggesting that a similar vertebrate fauna ranged high-latitude austral Pangaea. The distribution of the first dinosaurs is correlated with palaeolatitude-linked climatic barriers, and dinosaurian dispersal to the rest of the supercontinent was delayed until these barriers relaxed, suggesting that climatic controls influenced the initial composition of the terrestrial faunas that persist to this day.