Aquatic habits and niche partitioning in the extraordinarily long-necked Triassic reptile Tanystropheus - NMS Research Repository
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Journal article

Aquatic habits and niche partitioning in the extraordinarily long-necked Triassic reptile Tanystropheus

6 August 2020

Abstract

Tanystropheus longobardicus is one of the most remarkable and iconic Triassic reptiles. Mainly known from the Middle Triassic conservation Lagerstätte of Monte San Giorgio on the Swiss-Italian border, it is characterized by an extraordinarily long and stiffened neck that is almost three times the length of the trunk, despite being composed of only 13 hyper-elongate cervical vertebrae [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8]. Its paleobiology remains contentious, with both aquatic and terrestrial lifestyles having been proposed [1, 9, 10, 11, 12]. Among the Tanystropheus specimens, a small morphotype bearing tricuspid teeth and a large morphotype bearing single-cusped teeth can be recognized, historically considered as juveniles and adults of the same species [4]. Using high-resolution synchrotron radiation microtomography (SRμCT), we three-dimensionally reconstruct a virtually complete but disarticulated skull of the large morphotype, including its endocast and inner ear, to reveal its morphology for the first time. The skull is specialized toward hunting in an aquatic environment, indicated by the placement of the nares on the top of the snout and a “fish-trap”-type dentition. The SRμCT data and limb bone paleohistology reveal that the large morphotype represents a separate species (Tanystropheus hydroides sp. nov.). Skeletochronology of the small morphotype specimens indicates that they are skeletally mature despite their small size, thus representing adult individuals of Tanystropheus longobardicus. The co-occurrence of these two species of disparate size ranges and dentitions provides strong evidence for niche partitioning, highlighting the surprising versatility of the Tanystropheus bauplan and the complexity of Middle Triassic nearshore ecosystems.

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