Sci Rep 2017 06 30;7(1):4406. Epub 2017 Jun 30.
Empa, Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, Center for X-ray Analytics, Überlandstrasse 129, CH-8600, Dübendorf, Switzerland.
Recently it was suggested that the phylogenetic clustering of Mesozoic marine reptile lineages, such as thalattosaurs, the very successful fish-shaped ichthyosaurs and sauropterygians (including plesiosaurs), among others, in a so-called 'superclade' is an artefact linked to convergent evolution of morphological characters associated with a shared marine lifestyle. Accordingly, partial 'un-scoring' of the problematic phylogenetic characters was proposed. Here we report a new, exceptionally preserved and mostly articulated juvenile skeleton of the diapsid reptile, Eusaurosphargis dalsassoi, a species previously recovered within the marine reptile 'superclade', for which we now provide a revised diagnosis. Using micro-computed tomography, we show that besides having a deep skull with a short and broad rostrum, the most outstanding feature of the new specimen is extensive, complex body armour, mostly preserved in situ, along its vertebrae, ribs, and forelimbs, as well as a row of flat, keeled ventrolateral osteoderms associated with the gastralia. As a whole, the anatomical features support an essentially terrestrial lifestyle of the animal. A review of the proposed partial character 'un-scoring' using three published data matrices indicate that this approach is flawed and should be avoided, and that within the marine reptile 'superclade' E. dalsassoi potentially is the sister taxon of Sauropterygia.