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Keywords:

  • disparity;
  • Metriorhynchidae;
  • morphometrics;
  • phylogeny;
  • Teleosauridae;
  • shape;
  • skull

Abstract:  Skull shape variation in thalattosuchians is examined using geometric morphometric techniques in order to delineate species, especially with respect to the classification of Callovian species, and to explore patterns of disparity during their evolutionary history. The pattern of morphological diversity in thalattosuchian skulls was found to be very similar to modern crocodilians: the main sources of variation are the length and the width of the snout, but these broad changes are correlated with size of supratemporal fenestra and frontal bone, length of the nasal bone, size of the orbit and premaxilla and position of the narial opening. Patterns of shape variation, in combination with discrete-state morphology and stratigraphic and geographic range data were used to distinguish nine species of teleosaurid and 14 species of metriorhynchid, with the four currently recognized Callovian species being split into eight. Metriorhynchids were found to be more disparate from the average shape of morphospace than teleosaurids. However, short-snouted metriorhynchids and long-snouted teleosaurids showed the greatest amount of disparity with respect to snout morphotypes, indicating that each group tended to explore opposite areas of morphospace. Phylogeny was found to have a moderate influence on the pattern of morphospace occupation in metriorhynchids, but little effect in teleosaurids suggesting that other factors or constraints control the pattern of skull shape variation in thalattosuchians. A comparison of thalattosuchians with dyrosaur/pholidosaurids shows that thalattosuchians have a unique skull morphology, implying that there are multiple ways to construct a ‘long snout’. Moreover, the skull geometry of the problematic species Pelagosaurus typus was found to converge on the teleosaurid area of morphospace. Finally, the temporal distribution of thalattosuchian species and morphotypes demonstrate a clear and highly correlated relationship with sea level curves and mass extinction events through the Jurassic and the Early Cretaceous.