Thursday, January 28, 2010
Haplocheirus, the (or one of the?) Jurassic alvarezsaur(s)
Those coelurosaur ghost lineages just keep getting filled in lately. Today sees the publication of Haplocheirus sollers, the first Jurassic alverezsaur. Unlike its later brethren, this doesn't look very alvarezsaurian at first glance, more like you're typical generic coelurosaur. As Tom Holtz said o the DML, this is the first alvarezsaur that "looks normal"!
However, telltale signs (such as downward-flared basipterygoid processes on the skull) and a phylogenetic analysis shows that this is the earliest and most primitive member of the group. It comes from the Late Jurassic of China, and falls out as a basal maniraptoran, which jibes with the placement of alvarezsaurs in many recent studies, not avialan or ornithomimosaur as previously suspected by some. Interestingly, the teeth are heterodont, which seems to me to give weight to the reent hypothesis that all maniraptorans are ancestrally omnivorous. It's also the largest nkown alvarezsaurid known from good material, indicating that these guys may have started out fairly big and later shrunk to the diminutive sizes seen in the likes of Parvicursor.
But, is this really the earliest alvarezsaur on the radar? Some goss fans may have heard of a supposed alvarezsaur from the Tiaojishan Formation, preserved with feathers, mentioned at last year's SVP. That ain't this, though it would be from roughly the same time period (about 60 Ma ago). Depending on how similar the two species are, we might be looking at a ghost lineage that goes even further back than before, rther than being clipped to the mid-Jurassic. Time will tell.