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Synchrotron microtomography of a Nothosaurus marchicus skull informs on nothosaurian physiology and neurosensory adaptations in early Sauropterygia


Voeten, Dennis F A E; Reich, Tobias; Araújo, Ricardo; Scheyer, Torsten M (2018). Synchrotron microtomography of a Nothosaurus marchicus skull informs on nothosaurian physiology and neurosensory adaptations in early Sauropterygia. PLoS ONE, 13(1):e0188509.

Abstract

Nothosaurs form a subclade of the secondarily marine Sauropterygia that was well represented in late Early to early Late Triassic marine ecosystems. Here we present and discuss the internal skull anatomy of the small piscivorous nothosaur Nothosaurus marchicus from coastal to shallow marine Lower Muschelkalk deposits (Anisian) of Winterswijk, The Netherlands, which represents the oldest sauropterygian endocast visualized to date. The cranial endocast is only partially encapsulated by ossified braincase elements. Cranial flattening and lateral constriction by hypertrophied temporal musculature grant the brain a straight, tubular geometry that lacks particularly well-developed cerebral lobes but does potentially involve distinguishable optic lobes, suggesting vision may have represented an important sense during life. Despite large orbit size, the circuitous muscular pathway linking the basisphenoidal and orbital regions indicates poor oculomotor performance. This suggests a rather fixed ocular orientation, although eye placement and neck manoeuvrability could have enabled binocular if not stereoscopic vision. The proportionally large dorsal projection of the braincase endocast towards the well-developed pineal foramen advocates substantial dependence on the corresponding pineal system in vivo. Structures corroborating keen olfactory or acoustic senses were not identified. The likely atrophied vomeronasal organ argues against the presence of a forked tongue in Nothosaurus, and the relative positioning of external and internal nares contrasts respiratory configurations proposed for pistosauroid sauropterygians. The antorbital domain furthermore accommodates a putative rostral sensory plexus and pronounced lateral nasal glands that were likely exapted as salt glands. Previously proposed nothosaurian ‘foramina eustachii’ arose from architectural constraints on braincase development rather than representing functional foramina. Several modifications to brain shape and accessory organs were achieved through heterochronic development of the cranium, particularly the braincase. In summary, the cranium of Nothosaurus marchicus reflects important physiological and neurosensory adaptations that enabled the group’s explosive invasion of shallow marine habitats in the late Early Triassic.

Abstract

Nothosaurs form a subclade of the secondarily marine Sauropterygia that was well represented in late Early to early Late Triassic marine ecosystems. Here we present and discuss the internal skull anatomy of the small piscivorous nothosaur Nothosaurus marchicus from coastal to shallow marine Lower Muschelkalk deposits (Anisian) of Winterswijk, The Netherlands, which represents the oldest sauropterygian endocast visualized to date. The cranial endocast is only partially encapsulated by ossified braincase elements. Cranial flattening and lateral constriction by hypertrophied temporal musculature grant the brain a straight, tubular geometry that lacks particularly well-developed cerebral lobes but does potentially involve distinguishable optic lobes, suggesting vision may have represented an important sense during life. Despite large orbit size, the circuitous muscular pathway linking the basisphenoidal and orbital regions indicates poor oculomotor performance. This suggests a rather fixed ocular orientation, although eye placement and neck manoeuvrability could have enabled binocular if not stereoscopic vision. The proportionally large dorsal projection of the braincase endocast towards the well-developed pineal foramen advocates substantial dependence on the corresponding pineal system in vivo. Structures corroborating keen olfactory or acoustic senses were not identified. The likely atrophied vomeronasal organ argues against the presence of a forked tongue in Nothosaurus, and the relative positioning of external and internal nares contrasts respiratory configurations proposed for pistosauroid sauropterygians. The antorbital domain furthermore accommodates a putative rostral sensory plexus and pronounced lateral nasal glands that were likely exapted as salt glands. Previously proposed nothosaurian ‘foramina eustachii’ arose from architectural constraints on braincase development rather than representing functional foramina. Several modifications to brain shape and accessory organs were achieved through heterochronic development of the cranium, particularly the braincase. In summary, the cranium of Nothosaurus marchicus reflects important physiological and neurosensory adaptations that enabled the group’s explosive invasion of shallow marine habitats in the late Early Triassic.

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Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Paleontological Institute and Museum
Dewey Decimal Classification:560 Fossils & prehistoric life
Language:English
Date:3 January 2018
Deposited On:10 Jan 2018 19:27
Last Modified:20 Feb 2018 09:00
Publisher:Public Library of Science (PLoS)
ISSN:1932-6203
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:PubMed ID. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0188509
PubMed ID:29298295

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