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The phylogenetic position of the Tyrannosauridae: implications for theropod systematics

  • Thomas R. Holtz (a1)

Abstract

Tyrannosaurids are a well-supported clade of very large predatory dinosaurs of Late Cretaceous Asiamerica. Traditional dinosaurian systematics place these animals within the infraorder Carnosauria with the other large theropods (allosaurids, megalosaurids). A new cladistic analysis indicates that the tyrannosaurs were in fact derived members of the Coelurosauria, a group of otherwise small theropods. Despite certain gross cranial similarities with the large predators of the Jurassic and Early Cretaceous, the Late Cretaceous tyrannosaurids are shown to be the sister group to ornithomimids and troodontids, which share a derived condition of the metatarsus. This clade is found to be nested within Maniraptora, which is a more inclusive taxon than previously recognized. The atrophied carpal structure found in tyrannosaurids and ornithomimids is derived from a maniraptoran condition with a large semilunate carpal, rather than from the plesiomorphic theropod morphology.

The taxa “Carnosauria” and “Deinonychosauria” (Dromaeosauridae plus Troodontidae) are shown to be polyphyletic, and the Late Jurassic African form Elaphrosaurus is found to be the sister taxon to Abelisauridae rather than a primitive ornithomimosaur. Purported allosaurid-tyrannosaurid synapomorphies are seen to be largely size-related, present in the larger members of both clades, but absent in smaller members of the Tyrannosauridae. The remaining giant tetanurine theropods (Megalosaurus and Torvosaurus) were found to be progressively distant outgroups to an allosaurid-coelurosaur clade. The inclusion of the Tyrannosauridae within Maniraptora suggests a major adaptive radiation of coelurosaurs within Cretaceous Asiamerica comparable to contemporaneous radiations in various herbivorous dinosaurian clades.

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Journal of Paleontology
  • ISSN: 0022-3360
  • EISSN: 1937-2337
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