Scleromochlus and the early evolution of Pterosauromorpha

Davide Foffa*, Emma M. Dunne, Sterling J. Nesbitt, Richard J Butler, Nick Fraser, Steve Brusatte, Alexander Farnsworth, Daniel J. Lunt, Paul J. Valdes, Stig Walsh, Paul M Barrett

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Pterosaurs, the first vertebrates to evolve powered flight, were key components of Mesozoic terrestrial ecosystems from their sudden appearance in the Late Triassic until their demise at the end of the Cretaceous1,2,3,4,5,6. However, the origin and early evolution of pterosaurs are poorly understood owing to a substantial stratigraphic and morphological gap between these reptiles and their closest relatives6, Lagerpetidae7. Scleromochlus taylori, a tiny reptile from the early Late Triassic of Scotland discovered over a century ago, was hypothesized to be a key taxon closely related to pterosaurs8, but its poor preservation has limited previous studies and resulted in controversy over its phylogenetic position, with some even doubting its identification as an archosaur9. Here we use microcomputed tomographic scans to provide the first accurate whole-skeletal reconstruction and a revised diagnosis of Scleromochlus, revealing new anatomical details that conclusively identify it as a close pterosaur relative1 within Pterosauromorpha (the lagerpetid + pterosaur clade). Scleromochlus is anatomically more similar to lagerpetids than to pterosaurs and retains numerous features that were probably present in very early diverging members of Avemetatarsalia (bird-line archosaurs). These results support the hypothesis that the first flying reptiles evolved from tiny, probably facultatively bipedal, cursorial ancestors
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)313-318
JournalNature
Volume610
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 5 Oct 2022

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