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Postcranium of the paradigm elasmosaurid plesiosaurian Libonectes morgani (Welles, 1949)

  • SVEN SACHS (a1) and BENJAMIN P. KEAR (a2)

Elasmosauridae constitutes one of the most immediately recognizable plesiosaurian radiations. Their distinctive body plan represents the popular model for Plesiosauria, and is typified by an osteological morphology especially adapted for hyper-elongation of the neck. Nevertheless, many archetypal elasmosaurids are known only from incomplete and/or inadequately documented material, a problem that has contributed to their uncertain intra-clade relationships. A prime example of this is Libonectes morgani from the Upper Cretaceous of Texas, USA, which is frequently presented as an elasmosaurid structural proxy because of its three-dimensionally preserved holotype skull. Perplexingly though, both the taxonomic diagnosis and phylogenetic placement of L. morgani rely primarily upon the cervical vertebrae, together with the pectoral girdle and forelimb, yet most of these elements are now lost and figured only as line drawings. We therefore reviewed the remnant postcranial skeleton of L. morgani first-hand with the objective of clarifying its defining character states. Our observations showed that the existing diagnosis of L. morgani is indeed inadequate. Moreover, the only identifiable autapomorphies occurred within the axial skeleton. This concurred with an examination of character scores used in published plesiosaurian phylogenies, and highlights the persistent significance of postcranial elements for discriminating elasmosaurid taxa.

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