Cranial Morphology of the Plagiosaurid Gerrothorax pulcherrimus as an Extreme Example of Evolutionary Stasis

Schoch, R. R. and F. Witzmann. 2011. Cranial morphology of the plagiosaurid Gerrothorax pulcherrimus as an extreme example of evolutionary stasis. Lethaia, DOI: 10.1111/j.1502-3931.2011.00290.x

Abstract - The plagiosaurid Gerrothorax pulcherrimus from the Triassic of Greenland and Germany is represented by skulls ranging from 4 to 12 cm in length and sheds light on ontogeny, individual variation, and variation in time and space. Ontogeny was remarkably stable in G. pulcherrimus, with the smallest known specimens resembling the adults closely in most features. A true ontogenetic change is evident in the ornament of dermal bones, in that the smallest specimens have ridges whereas in the successively larger ones, pustules spread over increasingly larger areas. The skull becomes proportionally longer, and the adductor chambers relatively narrower. The positive allometry of both the orbits and the interpterygoid vacuities suggests that the eye supporting musculature – rather than the jaw adductors – increased proportionally during growth. Individual, not age-related variation in the dermal skull roof affects partial fusion of parietals, presence and extent of the interfrontoparietal, and the morphological pattern of the posterior skull table. The ventral surface of the basal plate of the parasphenoid ranges from smooth over poorly to heavily ornamented or dentigerous. Considering the impressive longevity of more than 35 Myr, the morphological changes of G. pulcherrimus are minor. Our ecological interpretation for G. pulcherrimus is that it relied on the permanent presence of water, but was flexible with respect to the size and nature of the water body as well as to changes in salinity. The unparalleled extent of evolutionary stasis may therefore be based on the ecological flexibility of this morphologically so tightly constrained temnospondyl.

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