Friday, October 07, 2005

New Flying Reptiles

Pterosaur diversity and faunal turnover in Cretaceous terrestrial ecosystems in China. Xiaolin Wang, Alexander W. A. Kellner, Zhonghe Zhou and Diogenes de Almeida Campos. 2005. Nature 437, 875-879. doi: 10.1038/nature03982.

New specimens and an analysis of the Jehol pterosaur faunae of northeastern China show an unexpected diversity of flying reptile groups in terrestrial Cretaceous ecosystems. Here we report two new pterosaurs that are referred to European groups previously unknown in deposits of northeastern China. Feilongus youngi, from the Yixian Formation, is closely related to the Gallodactylidae, and is distinguished by the presence of two independent sagittal crests and a protruding upper jaw. Nurhachius ignaciobritoi, from the Jiufotang Formation, has teeth formed by labiolingually compressed triangular crowns, only previously reported in Istiodactylus latidens from England. With these new discoveries, the Jehol pterosaurs show a wide range of groups including both primitive and derived forms that are not matched by any other deposit in the world. The discoveries also document the turnover of pterosaur faunae, with the primitive Anurognathidae and early archaeopterodactyloids being replaced by derived pterodactyloids. Furthermore, these deposits offer an opportunity to examine the interaction and competition between birds and pterosaurs—it indicates that the avian fauna during the Lower Cretaceous (and possibly most of the Mesozoic) dominated terrestrial, inland regions, whereas pterosaurs were more abundant in coastal areas.

Artists' renderings depict two newly discovered species of flying reptiles, or pterosaurs. Fossils found in China provide the first known evidence of the species, Nurhachius ignaciobritoi (top) and Feilongus youngi (bottom), which lived more than 120 million years ago.
Illustrations by Maurilio Oliveira and Orlando Grillo
From National Geographic News comes this article by Stefan Lovgren:

Fossils found in northeastern China have revealed two new species of flying reptiles that lived more than 120 million years ago, during the dinosaur era. The extinct species, known as pterosaurs, belong to groups previously found only in Europe. Scientists made the find in a region known for the diversity of its fossil specimens dating from the Cretaceous period, which lasted from 144 million to 65 million years ago.

The discovery may offer clues about the distribution of species during that time. Researchers now suggest, for example, that pterosaurs may have dominated coastal areas while birds were more dominant inland.

The pterosaurs were neither dinosaurs nor birds but rather flying reptiles that ruled the skies millions of years ago. They ranged in size from that of a sparrow to that of a small aircraft. The fossil deposits could provide researchers with an insight into the competition between pterosaurs and early bird species in this area of China.

Read the full article HERE.