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Repeated evolution of durophagy during ichthyosaur radiation after mass extinction indicated by hidden dentition


Marine tetrapods quickly diversified and were established as marine top predators after the end-Permian Mass extinction (EPME). Ichthyosaurs were the forerunner of this rapid radiation but the main drivers of the diversification are poorly understood. Cartorhynchus lenticarpus is a basal ichthyosauriform with the least degree of aquatic adaptation, holding a key to identifying such a driver. The unique specimen appeared edentulous based on what was exposed but a CT scanning revealed that the species indeed had rounded teeth that are nearly perpendicular to the jaw rami, and thus completely concealed in lateral view. There are three dental rows per jaw ramus, and the root lacks infoldings of the dentine typical of ichthyopterygians. The well-developed and worn molariform dentition with three tooth rows supports the previous inference that the specimen is not of a juvenile. The premaxilla and the corresponding part of the dentary are edentulous. Molariform dentition evolved three to five times independently within Ichthyosauriformes in the Early and Middle Triassic. Convergent exploitation of hard-shelled invertebrates by different subclades of ichthyosauriforms likely fueled the rapid taxonomic diversification of the group after EPME.

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