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New insights into Late Triassic dinosauromorph-bearing assemblages from Texas using apomorphy-based identifications


The Upper Triassic Dockum Group of Garza County, Texas (lower, middle, and upper Cooper Canyon Formation) captures the radiation of Triassic non-marine tetrapods by preserving a variety of Late Triassic taxa from the southwestern United States. Our understanding of the vertebrate assemblage from these strata largely comes from a single site, the Post Quarry (lower Cooper Canyon Formation), with previous research documenting a variety of temnospondyls, sphenodontians, non-archosauriform archosauromorphs, and archosauriforms including a phytosaur, three species of aetosaurs, a poposauroid, a rauisuchid, a crocodylomorph, and several dinosauromorphs. To more completely reconstruct the vertebrate assemblage of the Dockum Group of Garza County we use an apomorphy-based approach to identify morphologically similar disarticulated and fragmentary elements from a variety of localities that span the entire Cooper Canyon Formation (Norian-Rhaetian), allowing assignments from the large clade level to the species level. Many skeletal elements are incomplete yet diagnostic and are assigned to the least inclusive clade if discrete character states do not allow for an unambiguous species-level identification. We identify new specimens referable to numerous clades including Tanystropheidae, Allokotosauria + Prolacerta + Archosauriformes, Vancleavea + Litorosuchus, Phytosauria, Paracrocodylomorpha, Dinosauriformes, and Saurischia, in addition to additional species identifications of the aetosaur Scutarx deltatlyus, and the dinosauromorph Dromomeron gregorii. Our study of this material demonstrates the utility of an apomorphy-based approach in making testable and repeatable observations for identifying small, isolated fragmentary fossil tetrapod material to reconstruct a more accurate faunal hypothesis for a portion of the Late Triassic of Texas. Previous claims of the earliest dinosaurs from near the base of the Dockum Group do not pass the apomorphy-based identification test, and the question of whether the oldest known North American dinosaurs are present in the Chinle Formation or Dockum Group can be resolved by utilizing vertebrate biostratigraphic correlation. Our revision of these fossil assemblages supports the hypothesis that early diapsids, early archosauromorphs, and non-dinosaurian dinosauromorphs were more common, diverse, and widespread in low latitudes during this time than previously thought.

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