The skull of the giant predatory pliosaur Rhomaleosaurus cramptoni: implications for plesiosaur phylogenetics
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- Smith, A.S. & Dyke, G.J. Naturwissenschaften (2008) 95: 975. doi:10.1007/s00114-008-0402-z
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The predatory pliosaurs were among the largest creatures ever to inhabit the oceans, some reaching gigantic proportions greater than 15 m in length. Fossils of this subclade of plesiosaurs are known from sediments all over the world, ranging in age from the Hettangian (approximately 198 Myr) to the Turonian (approximately 92 Myr). However, due to a lack of detailed studies and because only incomplete specimens are usually reported, pliosaur evolution remains poorly understood. In this paper, we describe the three dimensionally preserved skull of the giant Jurassic pliosaur Rhomaleosaurus cramptoni. The first phylogenetic analysis dedicated to in-group relationships of pliosaurs allows us to hypothesise a number of well-supported lineages that correlate with marine biogeography and the palaeoecology of these reptiles. Rhomaleosaurids comprised a short-lived and early diverging lineage within pliosaurs, whose open-water top-predator niche was filled by other pliosaur taxa by the mid-late Jurassic.