, Volume 97, Issue 9, pp 845-854
Date: 14 Aug 2010

Survival of Theriosuchus (Mesoeucrocodylia: Atoposauridae) in a Late Cretaceous archipelago: a new species from the Maastrichtian of Romania

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Abstract

Small terrestrial non-eusuchian mesoeucrocodylians are common components of Cretaceous assemblages of Gondwanan provinces with notosuchians and araripesuchids as flagship taxa in South America, Africa and Madagascar, well into the Late Cretaceous. On the other hand, these are exceedingly rare in Laurasian landmasses during the Late Cretaceous. Small terrestrial mesoeucrocodylians from Europe were often referred to the genus Theriosuchus, a taxon with stratigraphic range extending from the Late Jurassic to the late Early Cretaceous. Theriosuchus is abundantly reported from various European localities, although Asiatic and possibly North American members are also known. It has often been closely associated with the first modern crocodilians, members of the Eusuchia, because of the presence of procoelous vertebrae, a widespread key character diagnosing the Eusuchia. Nevertheless, the relationships of Theriosuchus have not been explored in detail although one species, Theriosuchus pusillus, has been extensively described and referred in numerous works. Here, we describe a new basal mesoeucrocodylian, Theriosuchus sympiestodon sp. nov. from the Maastrichtian of the Haţeg Basin, Romania, suggesting a large temporal gap (about 58 myr) in the fossil record of the genus. Inclusion of the new taxon, along with Theriosuchus guimarotae, in a phylogenetic analysis confirms its referral to the genus Theriosuchus, within a monophyletic atoposaurid clade. Although phylogenetic resolution within this clade is still poor, the new taxon appears, on morphological grounds, to be most closely related to T. pusillus. The relationships of Atoposauridae within Mesoeucrocodylia and especially to Neosuchia are discussed in light of the results of the present contribution as well as from recent work. Our results raise the possibility that Atoposauridae might not be regarded as a derived neosuchian clade anymore, although further investigation of the neosuchian interrelationships is needed. Reports of isolated teeth referable to a closely related taxon from the Upper Cretaceous of Romania and France, together with the presence of Doratodon and Ischyrochampsa, indicate a previously unsuspected diverse assemblage of non-eusuchian mesoeucrocodylians in the Late Cretaceous European archipelago.