• 262 Voyages Beneath the Sea: a global assessment of macro- and megafaunal biodiversity and research effort at deep-sea hydrothermal vents

      Thaler, AD; Amon, Diva (PeerJ, 2019-08-06)
      For over 40 years, hydrothermal vents and the communities that thrive on them have been a source of profound discovery for deep-sea ecologists. These ecosystems are found throughout the world on active plate margins as well as other geologically active features. In addition to their ecologic interest, hydrothermal vent fields are comprised of metallic ores, sparking a nascent industry that aims to mine these metal-rich deposits for their mineral wealth. Here, we provide the first systematic assessment of macrofaunal and megafaunal biodiversity at hydrothermal vents normalized against research effort. Cruise reports from scientific expeditions as well as other literature were used to characterize the extent of exploration, determine the relative biodiversity of different biogeographic provinces, identify knowledge gaps related to the distribution of research effort, and prioritize targets for additional sampling to establish biodiversity baselines ahead of potential commercial exploitation. The Northwest Pacific, Southwest Pacific, and Southern Ocean biogeographic provinces were identified as high biodiversity using rarefaction of family-level incidence data, whereas the North East Pacific Rise, Northern East Pacific, Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and Indian Ocean provinces had medium biodiversity, and the Mid-Cayman Spreading Center was identified as a province of relatively low biodiversity. A North/South divide in the extent of biological research and the targets of hydrothermal vent mining prospects was also identified. Finally, we provide an estimate of sampling completeness for each province to inform scientific and stewardship priorities.
    • Anatomy of Rhinochelys pulchriceps (Protostegidae) and marine adaptation during the early evolution of chelonioids

      Evers, SW; Benson, RBJ; Barrett, PM (PeerJ Inc., 2019-05-01)
      Knowledge of the early evolution of sea turtles (Chelonioidea) has been limited by conflicting phylogenetic hypotheses resulting from sparse taxon sampling and a superficial understanding of the morphology of key taxa. This limits our understanding of evolutionary adaptation to marine life in turtles, and in amniotes more broadly. One problematic group are the protostegids, Early–Late Cretaceous marine turtles that have been hypothesised to be either stem-cryptodires, stem-chelonioids, or crown-chelonioids. Different phylogenetic hypotheses for protostegids suggest different answers to key questions, including (1) the number of transitions to marine life in turtles, (2) the age of the chelonioid crown-group, and (3) patterns of skeletal evolution during marine adaptation. We present a detailed anatomical study of one of the earliest protostegids, Rhinochelys pulchriceps from the early Late Cretaceous of Europe, using high-resolution mCT. We synonymise all previously named European species and document the variation seen among them. A phylogeny of turtles with increased chelonioid taxon sampling and revised postcranial characters is provided, recovering protostegids as stem-chelonioids. Our results imply a mid Early Cretaceous origin of total-group chelonioids and an early Late Cretaceous age for crown-chelonioids, which may inform molecular clock analyses in future. Specialisations of the chelonioid flipper evolved in a stepwise-fashion, with innovations clustered into pulses at the origin of total-group chelonioids, and subsequently among dermochelyids, crown-cheloniids, and gigantic protostegids from the Late Cretaceous.
    • Combining simulation modeling and stable isotope analyses to reconstruct the last known movements of one of Nature’s giants

      Trueman, C; Jackson, A; Chadwick, K; Coombs, Ellen J; Feyrer, L; Magozzi, S; Sabin, R; Cooper, N (PeerJ Inc., 2019-10-18)
      The spatial ecology of rare, migratory oceanic animals is difficult to study directly. Where incremental tissues are available, their chemical composition can provide valuable indirect observations of movement and diet. Interpreting the chemical record in incremental tissues can be highly uncertain, however, as multiple mechanisms interact to produce the observed data. Simulation modeling is one approach for considering alternative hypotheses in ecology and can be used to consider the relative likelihood of obtaining an observed record under different combinations of ecological and environmental processes. Here we show how a simulation modeling approach can help to infer movement behaviour based on stable carbon isotope profiles measured in incremental baleen tissues of a blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus). The life history of this particular specimen, which stranded in 1891 in the UK, was selected as a case study due to its cultural significance as part of a permanent display at the Natural History Museum, London. We specifically tested whether measured variations in stable isotope compositions across the analysed baleen plate were more consistent with residency or latitudinal migrations. The measured isotopic record was most closely reproduced with a period of residency in sub-tropical waters for at least a full year followed by three repeated annual migrations between sub-tropical and high latitude regions. The latitudinal migration cycle was interrupted in the year prior to stranding, potentially implying pregnancy and weaning, but isotopic data alone cannot test this hypothesis. Simulation methods can help reveal movement information coded in the biochemical compositions of incremental tissues such as those archived in historic collections, and provides context and inferences that are useful for retrospective studies of animal movement, especially where other sources of individual movement data are sparse or challenging to validate.
    • The cranial morphology of Tanystropheus hydroides (Tanystropheidae, Archosauromorpha) as revealed by synchrotron microtomography

      Spiekman, Stephan NF; Neenan, James M; Fraser, Nicholas C; Fernandez, Vincent; Rieppel, Olivier; Nosotti, Stefania; Scheyer, Torsten M (PeerJ, 2020-11-20)
      The postcranial morphology of the extremely long-necked Tanystropheus hydroides is well-known, but observations of skull morphology were previously limited due to compression of the known specimens. Here we provide a detailed description of the skull of PIMUZ T 2790, including a partial endocast and endosseous labyrinth, based on synchrotron microtomographic data, and compare its morphology to that of other early Archosauromorpha. In many features, such as the wide and flattened snout and the configuration of the temporal and palatal regions, Tanystropheus hydroides differs strongly from other early archosauromorphs. The braincase possesses a combination of derived archosaur traits, such as the presence of a laterosphenoid and the ossification of the lateral wall of the braincase, but also differs from archosauriforms in the morphology of the ventral ramus of the opisthotic, the horizontal orientation of the parabasisphenoid, and the absence of a clearly defined crista prootica. Tanystropheus hydroides was a ram-feeder that likely caught its prey through a laterally directed snapping bite. Although the cranial morphology of other archosauromorph lineages is relatively well-represented, the skulls of most tanystropheid taxa remain poorly understood due to compressed and often fragmentary specimens. The recent descriptions of the skulls of Macrocnemus bassanii and now Tanystropheus hydroides reveal a large cranial disparity in the clade, reflecting wide ecological diversity, and highlighting the importance of non-archosauriform Archosauromorpha to both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems during the Triassic.
    • Graham MR. (2017) The remedial conservation and support jacketing of the neotype specimen of the dinosaur Massospondylus carinatus

      Graham, M (PeerJ Inc., 2017-08-09)
      In March 2017 the neotype specimen of the Early Jurassic South African prosauropod dinosaur Massospondylus carinatus was appraised and condition reported at the Evolutionary Studies Institute, University of the Witwatersrand (WITS), Johannesburg, in readiness for remedial conservation and re-storage. The work was necessitated by deterioration of the specimen, which was caused by handling over a number of years and an inadequate and failing support mount. Formally numbered BP/1/4934, but more affectionately known to staff as ‘Big Momma’, the specimen was contained within several individual blocks on flimsy support bases and presented various conservation challenges.These included treatment of fractures and cracking across several surfaces of the fossil and the production of clam shell supports to allow for articulated display within the constraints of an existing display cabinet. Part of the brief was to facilitate safer handling and access for researchers. This project was led by the author who also trained the curatorial and preparation staff at WITS in the methods and techniques employed. The visit was funded by the Palaeontological Scientific Trust (PAST), the DST/NRF Centre of Excellence in Palaeosciences and The University of the Witwatersrand (WITS).
    • Morphological convergence in "river dolphin" skulls

      Page, CE; Cooper, N (PeerJ Inc., 2017-11-21)
      Convergent evolution can provide insights into the predictability of, and constraints on, the evolution of biodiversity. One striking example of convergence is seen in the ‘river dolphins’. The four dolphin genera that make up the ‘river dolphins’ (Inia geoffrensis, Pontoporia blainvillei, Platanista gangetica and Lipotes vexillifer) do not represent a single monophyletic group, despite being very similar in morphology. This has led many to using the ‘river dolphins’ as an example of convergent evolution. We investigate whether the skulls of the four ‘river dolphin’ genera are convergent when compared to other toothed dolphin taxa in addition to identifying convergent cranial and mandibular features. We use geometric morphometrics to uncover shape variation in the skulls of the ‘river dolphins’ and then apply a number of phylogenetic techniques to test for convergence. We find significant convergence in the skull morphology of the ‘river dolphins’. The four genera seem to have evolved similar skull shapes, leading to a convergent morphotype characterised by elongation of skull features. The cause of this morphological convergence remains unclear. However, the features we uncover as convergent, in particular elongation of the rostrum, support hypotheses of shared feeding mode or diet and thus provide the foundation for future work into convergence within the Odontoceti.
    • Ngwevu intloko: a new early sauropodomorph dinosaur from the Lower Jurassic Elliot Formation of South Africa and comments on cranial ontogeny in Massospondylus carinatus

      Chapelle, KEJ; Barrett, PM; Botha, J; Choiniere, JN (PeerJ Inc., 2019-08-05)
      Our knowledge of Early Jurassic palaeobiodiversity in the upper Elliot Formation of South Africa has increased markedly in recent years with the discovery of new fossils, re-assessments of previously collected material and a better understanding of Stormberg Group stratigraphy. Here, Ngwevu intloko, a new genus of upper Elliot basal sauropodomorph is named on the basis of a complete skull and partial skeleton (BP/1/4779) previously assigned to Massospondylus carinatus. It can be distinguished from all other basal sauropodomorphs by a combination of 16 cranial and six postcranial characters. The new species is compared to a small ontogenetic series of M. carinatus as well as to a range of closely related taxa. Taphonomic deformation, sexual dimorphism and ontogeny are rejected as possible explanations for the morphological differences present between BP/1/4779 and other taxa. Osteohistological examination reveals that BP/1/4779 had nearly reached adult size at the time of its death at a minimum age of 10 years.
    • The systematic position of the enigmatic thyreophoran dinosaur Paranthodon africanus , and the use of basal exemplifiers in phylogenetic analysis

      Raven, TJ; Maidment, SC (PeerJ, 2018-03-20)
      The first African dinosaur to be discovered, Paranthodon africanus was found in 1845 in the Lower Cretaceous of South Africa. Taxonomically assigned to numerous groups since discovery, in 1981 it was described as a stegosaur, a group of armoured ornithischian dinosaurs characterised by bizarre plates and spines extending from the neck to the tail. This assignment has been subsequently accepted. The type material consists of a premaxilla, maxilla, a nasal, and a vertebra, and contains no synapomorphies of Stegosauria. Several features of the maxilla and dentition are reminiscent of Ankylosauria, the sister-taxon to Stegosauria, and the premaxilla appears superficially similar to that of some ornithopods. The vertebral material has never been described, and since the last description of the specimen, there have been numerous discoveries of thyreophoran material potentially pertinent to establishing the taxonomic assignment of the specimen. An investigation of the taxonomic and systematic position of Paranthodon is therefore warranted. This study provides a detailed re-description, including the first description of the vertebra. Numerous phylogenetic analyses demonstrate that the systematic position of Paranthodon is highly labile and subject to change depending on which exemplifier for the clade Stegosauria is used. The results indicate that the use of a basal exemplifier may not result in the correct phylogenetic position of a taxon being recovered if the taxon displays character states more derived than those of the basal exemplifier, and we recommend the use, minimally, of one basal and one derived exemplifier per clade. Paranthodon is most robustly recovered as a stegosaur in our analyses, meaning it is one of the youngest and southernmost stegosaurs.
    • Using natural history collections to investigate changes in pangolin (Pholidota: Manidae) geographic ranges through time

      Buckingham, Emily; Curry, Jake; Emogor, Charles; Tomsett, Louise; Cooper, N (PeerJ, 2021-02-11)
      Pangolins, often considered the world’s most trafficked wild mammals, have continued to experience rapid declines across Asia and Africa. All eight species are classed as either Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. Alongside habitat loss, they are threatened mainly by poaching and/or legal hunting to meet the growing consumer demand for their meat and keratinous scales. Species threat assessments heavily rely on changes in species distributions which are usually expensive and difficult to monitor, especially for rare and cryptic species like pangolins. Furthermore, recent assessments of the threats to pangolins focus on characterising their trade using seizure data which provide limited insights into the true extent of global pangolin declines. As the consequences of habitat modifications and poaching/hunting on species continues to become apparent, it is crucial that we frequently update our understanding of how species distributions change through time to allow effective identification of geographic regions that are in need of urgent conservation actions. Here we show how georeferencing pangolin specimens from natural history collections can reveal how their distributions are changing over time, by comparing overlap between specimen localities and current area of habitat maps derived from IUCN range maps. We found significant correlations in percentage area overlap between species, continent, IUCN Red List status and collection year, but not ecology (terrestrial or arboreal/semi-arboreal). Human population density (widely considered to be an indication of trafficking pressure) and changes in primary forest cover, were weakly correlated with percentage overlap. Our results do not suggest a single mechanism for differences among historical distributions and present-day ranges, but rather show that multiple explanatory factors must be considered when researching pangolin population declines as variations among species influence range fluctuations. We also demonstrate how natural history collections can provide temporal information on distributions and discuss the limitations of collecting and using historical data.