Background: The origin and early radiation of archosaurs and closely related taxa (Archosauriformes) during the Triassic was a critical event in the evolutionary history of tetrapods. This radiation led to the dinosaur-dominated ecosystems of the Jurassic and Cretaceous, and the high present-day archosaur diversity that includes around 10,000 bird and crocodylian species. The timing and dynamics of this evolutionary radiation are currently obscured by the poorly constrained phylogenetic positions of several key early archosauriform taxa, including several species from the Middle Triassic of Argentina (Gracilisuchus stipanicicorum) and China (Turfanosuchus dabanensis, Yonghesuchus sangbiensis). These species act as unstable 'wildcards' in morphological phylogenetic analyses, reducing phylogenetic resolution. Results: We present new anatomical data for the type specimens of G. stipanicicorum, T. dabanensis, and Y. sangbiensis, and carry out a new morphological phylogenetic analysis of early archosaur relationships. Our results indicate that these three previously enigmatic taxa form a well-supported clade of Middle Triassic archosa urs that we refer to as Gracilisuchidae. Gracilisuchidae is placed basally within Suchia, among the pseudosuchian (crocodile-line) archosaurs. The approximately contemporaneous and morphologically similar G. stipanicicorum and Y. sangbiensis may be sister taxa within Gracilisuchidae. Conclusions: Our results provide increased resolution of the previously poorly constrained relationships of early archosaurs, with increased levels of phylogenetic support for several key early pseudosuchian clades. Moreover, they falsify previous hypotheses suggesting that T. dabanensis and Y. sangbiensis are not members of the archosaur crown group. The recognition of Gracilisuchidae provides further support for a rapid phylogenetic diversification of crown archosaurs by the Middle Triassic. The disjunct distribution of the gracilisuchid clade in China and Argentina demonstrates that early archosaurs were distributed over much or all of Pangaea although they may have initially been relatively rare members of faunal assemblages. © 2014 Butler et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.
Butler, R. J., Sullivan, C., Ezcurra, M. D., Liu, J., Lecuona, A., & Sookias, R. B. (2014). New clade of enigmatic early archosaurs yields insights into early pseudosuchian phylogeny and the biogeography of the archosaur radiation. BMC Evolutionary Biology, 14(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2148-14-128