New theropod dinosaur from the Upper Cretaceous of Patagonia sheds light on the paravian radiation in Gondwana

Abstract

The fossil record of basal paravians in Gondwana is still poorly known, being limited to the Cretaceous unenlagiids from South America and the problematic Rahonavis from Madagascar. Here we report on a new paravian from the Cenomanian-Turonian (Late Cretaceous) of Río Negro province, NW Patagonia, Argentina. The new taxon exhibits a derived bird-like morphology of the forelimbs (e.g., robust ulna with prominent, anteriorly oriented, and proximally saddle-shaped radial cotyle and wide medial flange on metacarpal I) and a plesiomorphic foot with a raptorial pedal digit II. Phylogenetic analysis recovers the new taxon in a monophyletic clade with Rahonavis, being the sister group of the remaining Avialae and more derived than other non-avian dinosaurs. Both exhibit derived forelimb traits in opposition with their plesiomorphic hind limbs. The position of the new taxon and Rahonavis as stem avialans indicates that Gondwanan basal paravians are represented by two different clades, at least. The new taxon probably constitutes a previously unknown grade in the avian-line theropods in which some flight-related adaptations of the forelimbs are present in cursorial taxa. The present discovery sheds light on the acquisition of flight-related traits in non-avian dinosaurs and on the still poorly known paravian radiation in Gondwana.

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Acknowledgments

We thank X. Xu and M. Pittman for their useful comments and observations about the morphology of Overoraptor. We thank M. Isasi, A. M. Aranciaga Rolando, S. Rozadilla, J. A. García Marsà, A. R. Gentil, J. S. D’Angelo, M. Cerroni, G. Álvarez Herrera, G. Muñoz, G. Lio, G. Lo Coco, A. Moreno and A. Martinelli for their comments on present contribution and their invaluable help during the fieldwork. M.D. Ezcurra helped with the phylogenetic analyses. Special thanks to the Violante family, Silverio Manfio (Ingeniería SIMA S.A.), Joaquín Mendoza, and P. Chafrat for their logistic support during the expedition. Secretaría de Cultura de la Provincia de Río Negro is acknowledged for their support during the fieldwork. We thank the technicians M. Isasi, C. H. Alsina, and N. Olejnik for the technical preparation of the specimen described here. Special thanks to an anonymous reviewer and Corwin Sullivan for their enlightening comments on the manuscript. Finally, we thank Editor A. Grandal-d’Anglade for her help during the editorial process of the manuscript.

Funding

This research was supported by the National Geographic Society (CP-096ER-17), and Mr. Coleman Burke (New York).

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Correspondence to Matías J. Motta.

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Motta, M.J., Agnolín, F., Brissón Egli, F. et al. New theropod dinosaur from the Upper Cretaceous of Patagonia sheds light on the paravian radiation in Gondwana. Sci Nat 107, 24 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00114-020-01682-1

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Keywords

  • Theropoda
  • Paraves
  • South America
  • Upper Cretaceous