Thursday, January 31, 2013

A new Romanian azhdarchid in PLOS ONE

Posted on behalf of Darren:

A new azhdarchid pterosaur – a member of that highly distinctive, long-necked, long-skulled Cretaceous clade most famous for the gigantic Quetzalcoatlus northropi – has just been described by Mátyás Vremir (Transylvanian Museum Society at Cluj-Napoca), Alex Kellner (Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro), Darren Naish and Gareth Dyke (both of the University of Southampton). The new animal is from the Upper Cretaceous Sebeş Formation of the Transylvanian Basin in Romania and is named Eurazhdarcho langendorfensis (Vremir et al. 2013). Based on a partial neck and partial right wing found in close association (and hence definitely coming from the same individual), it can be recognised as a new species thanks to various details of its cervical vertebrae.

Speculative reconstruction of Eurazhdarcho langendorfensis 
(in quad launching pose), by Mark Witton.
 Scale bar = 500 mm. From Vremir et al. (2013).

Eurazhdarcho was a small azhdarchid, with an estimated wingspan of about 3 m. As discussed in the paper – and also at theTetrapod Zoology article on the new speciesEurazhdarcho is yet another azhdarchid discovered in a terrestrial, continental sort of environment: it provides more support for the view of azhdarchid behaviour and ecology that Mark Witton and I put forward in 2008 (Witton & Naish 2008). What’s also interesting is that Eurazhdarcho seemingly lived alongside a gigantic species (probably Hatzegopteryx thambema) that would have had a wingspan of 10-11 m. What does this mean for azhdarchid ecology? Does it show that different azhdarchid species were sharing habitats and occupying distinct ecological niches? These issues and more are covered at Tetrapod Zoology and also in the paper. The paper is in PLOS ONE so is freely available to anyone (linked below).

Some geological units reveal evidence of two or even three sympatric azhdarchid species. Diagram produced by Mark Witton and map used with kind permission of Ron Blakey, Colorado Plateau Geosystems, Inc; from Vremir et al. (2013).