Wednesday, 20 November 2019


Predatory dinosaurs were an important ecological component of terrestrial Mesozoic ecosystems.

Though theropod dinosaurs carried this role during the Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods (and probably the post-Carnian portion of the Triassic), it is difficult to depict the Carnian scenario, due to the scarcity of fossils.

Until now, knowledge on the earliest predatory dinosaurs mostly relies on herrerasaurids recorded in the Carnian strata of South America. Phylogenetic investigations recovered the clade in different positions within Dinosauria, whereas fewer studies challenged its monophyly.

Although herrerasaurid fossils are much better recorded in present-day Argentina than in Brazil, Argentinean strata so far yielded no fairly complete skeleton representing a single individual.

Here, the authors describe Gnathovorax cabreirai, a new herrerasaurid based on an exquisite specimen found as part of a multi-taxic association form southern Brazil. The type specimen comprises a complete and well-preserved articulated skeleton, preserved in close association (side by side) with rhynchosaur and cynodont remains.

Given its superb state of preservation and completeness, the new specimen sheds light on poorly understood aspects of the herrerasaurid anatomy, including endocranial soft tissues.

The specimen also reinforces the monophyletic status of the group and provides clues on the ecomorphology of the early carnivorous dinosaurs. Indeed, an ecomorphological analysis employing dental traits indicates that herrerasaurids occupy a particular area in the morphospace of faunivorous dinosaurs, which partially overlaps the area occupied by post-Carnian theropods. This indicates that herrerasaurid dinosaurs preceded the ecological role that later would be occupied by large to medium-sized theropods. Link to the paper: