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Keywords:

  • Temnospondyli;
  • Archegosaurus;
  • postcranium;
  • ontogeny;
  • phylogenetic analysis;
  • palaeobiology

Abstract:  The gharial-like Archegosaurus decheni from the Permian/Carboniferous boundary of south-west Germany is one of the best known temnospondyls. Based largely on new material, we restudied the postcranial anatomy of this species, including ontogenetic aspects. A. decheni has 24 presacral vertebrae, and the length of the deep tail exceeds the length of the rest of the body. Neural spines are moderately high and slowly become differentiated during ontogeny. The intercentra start to ossify very late. Distal uncinate processes are developed on the anterior ribs in adult specimens. Only the ventral portion of the scapula is ossified. The slender ilium and the ischium are not co-ossified, and the pubis remained cartilaginous. Among stereospondylomorph temnospondyls, the very short and rudimentarily developed humerus exhibits a unique morphology. Carpals and tarsals start to ossify only in the largest specimens. The poorly ossified postcranium indicates that A. decheni was primarily an aquatic temnospondyl. We undertook a phylogenetic study of A. decheni and 16 other temnospondyls, based exclusively on postcranial characters. We analysed 52 characters, obtaining a single most parsimonious tree that agrees in many aspects with cranium-based analyses: Trimerorhachis and Dvinosaurus form a basal clade (Dvinosauria), followed by monophyletic euskelians (dissorophoids plus eryopids) and finally the stereospondylomorphs, within which A. decheni is nested above Sclerocephalus. Among stereospondyls, trematosaurids and metoposaurids form a clade, whereas the chigutisaurid Siderops is nested with capitosauroids. The primitive condition of Temnospondyli is still not adequately understood, especially the degree of terrestriality of the earliest temnospondyls.