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A titanosaurian sauropod with Gondwanan affinities in the latest Cretaceous of Europe

Abstract

The origin of the last sauropod dinosaur communities in Europe and their evolution during the final 15 million years of the Cretaceous have become a complex phylogenetic and palaeobiogeographic puzzle characterized by the controversy on the alleged coexistence of immigrant, Gondwana-related taxa alongside relictual and insular clades. In this context, we describe a new titanosaurian sauropod dinosaur, Abditosaurus kuehnei gen. et sp. nov., from the Late Cretaceous (Maastrichtian) Tremp Group of Catalonia (Spain). Phylogenetic analyses recover Abditosaurus separately from other European titanosaurs, within a clade of otherwise South American and African saltasaurines. The affinity of the new taxon with southern landmasses is reinforced by spatiotemporal co-occurrence with Gondwanan titanosaurian oospecies in southern Europe. The large size and the lack of osteohistological features potentially related to insular dwarfism or size reduction support the idea that Abditosaurus belongs to an immigrant lineage, unequivocally distinct from some of the island dwarfs of the European archipelago. The arrival of the Abditosaurus lineage to the Ibero–Armorican Island is hypothesized to have occurred during the earliest Maastrichtian (70.6 Ma), probably as a result of a global and regional sea-level drop that reactivated ancient dispersal routes between Africa and Europe. The arrival of large-bodied titanosaurs to the European archipelago produced dramatic changes in its insular ecosystems and important evolutionary changes in its dinosaur faunas, especially with respect to the ‘island rule’ effect.

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Fig. 1: Type locality of Abditosaurus kuehnei gen. et sp. nov.
Fig. 2: Skeletal anatomy of Abditosaurus kuehnei gen. et sp. nov.
Fig. 3: Time-calibrated phylogenetic analysis and palaeobiogeographic context of Abditosaurus kuehnei gen. et sp. nov. and other saltasaurid titanosaurian sauropods.
Fig. 4: Chronostratigraphy and hypothesized dispersal route for Abditosaurus kuehnei gen. et sp. nov. and other latest Cretaceous Ibero–Armorican titanosaurs.

Data availability

This published work and the nomenclatural acts it contains have been registered in ZooBank, the proposed online registration system for the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN). The ZooBank LSIDs can be resolved and the associated information viewed through any standard web browser by appending the LSID to the prefix ‘http://zoobank.org/’. All other data supporting the findings of this study are available within the paper and its Supplementary Information.

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Acknowledgements

We thank J. Montané, E. Aguirre, A. Lacasa and J. V. Santafé for providing key information on early excavations; U. Klebe and A. Klebe for transcripts and translation of WGK’s field notes, and for providing permission to reproduce WGK and field-notes images in Fig. 1 and Supplementary Fig. 2; R. Gaete, J. González, E. Nieto, A. Vallès and I. Fernández for logistics and fossil preparation; all colleagues who participated in the field campaigns; E. Gorscak for kindly providing XML files for BEAST 2.1.3; B. F. Rotatori for assisting with Bayesian phylogenetic methods; M. Belvedere for assisting with photogrammetry techniques; B. González Riga for providing permission to reproduce the skeletal reconstruction in Fig. 1; R. Contreras for providing the image for Supplementary Fig. 3; R. Glasgow for reviewing the English; M. C. Lamanna and V. Díez Díaz for helpful reviews; and J. A. Wilson for constructive feedback on an early version of the manuscript. MNCN provided permissions for the study, sampling and casting of MNCN specimens, and Archivo MNCN-CSIC provided permission to reproduce images for Supplementary Figs. 1 and 2. This research is part of the project I+D+i/PID2020-119811GB-I00 funded by MCIN/ AEI/10.13039/501100011033/ (B.V.). Additional funding was provided by the CERCA Programme and the project CLT009/18/00067 funded by the Generalitat de Catalunya (B.V., A.S. and A.G.), the Committee for Research and Exploration of the National Geographic Society (grant 9148-12 to B.V.), MEIC, MCI and MEC (CGL2017-85038-P, CGL2016-77230-P and CGL2011-30069-C02-01 to A.G., B.V., A.S. and J.I.C.) and Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnología (PTDC/CTA-PAL/31656/2017, UIDB/04035/2020 and PTDC/CTA-PAL/2217/2021 to M.M.-A.). Fossil preparation was supported by the Servei de Museus–Departament de Cultura of the Generalitat de Catalunya (grants 2015/104328, CLT005/16/00008, CLT005/19/00045) and the Institut d’Estudis Ilerdencs (grant 201602412).

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B.V. devised and directed the project and supervised the fieldwork; B.V., A.S., A.G., N.L.R. and J.I.C. collected the fossils and taphonomic data in the field; B.V., A.S. and A.G. supervised fossil preparation; B.V. described and measured the fossils, and collected historical information; M.M.-A. and B.V. performed phylogenetic and biogeographic analyses; A.G.-D., A.S. and B.V. conducted histological analyses; N.L.R. performed the photogrammetry and 3D modelling; B.V. wrote the paper with substantial inputs from A.S., M.M.-A., A.G.-D. and N.L.R. B.V., A.S. and M.M.-A. designed the figures. B.V., A.S., M.M.-A., N.L.R., A.G.-D., A.G. and J.I.C. reviewed and edited the original draft.

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Correspondence to Bernat Vila.

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Nature Ecology & Evolution thanks Veronica Díez Díaz and Matthew Lamanna for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary Materials and Methods, Results, Tables 1–7 and References.

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Script for TNT v.1.5 to replicate the parsimony analysis.

Supplementary Data

TNT file including the character scores for the parsimony analyses.

Supplementary Data

Nexus file for MrBayes 3.2.7a to reproduce the non-clock analyses.

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Script for Beast 2.4.7.

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Vila, B., Sellés, A., Moreno-Azanza, M. et al. A titanosaurian sauropod with Gondwanan affinities in the latest Cretaceous of Europe. Nat Ecol Evol 6, 288–296 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-021-01651-5

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