Just reported in PLoS ONE is a new dinosaur.
Here are the salient facts:
Species name: Spinophorosaurus nigerensis
Who found it: Scientists with the State Museum of Natural History Braunschweig, Germany, and the Paldes Project (led by the Paleontological Museum of Elche, Spain)
Kind of dinosaur: Basal sauropod
Time period: Early and Middle Jurassic (about 200 to 170 million years ago)
What the finders say about it:
“There are very few complete skeletons of basal sauropods,” Remes explains. However, complete finds are crucial for the scientists in order to reliably reconstruct the evolution of the sauropods. The discovery of two almost-complete skeletons of the new species by teams of the State Museum of Natural History Braunschweig, Germany and of the Paleontological Museum of Elche, Spain is hence a stroke of luck.
Spinophorosaurus, measuring about 13 m from head to tail, has all hallmarks of a genuine sauropod, including column-like limbs carrying a massive trunk, a long neck with a tiny head, and a long tail counterbalancing the neck. Characteristics of the skull and vertebral column expose the new species as a great-grandfather of the sauropods that later achieved global distribution. Spinophorosaurus means “spike-bearing lizard”. Ossified spikes that were probably placed on the tail tip may have served as a defensive weapon against predatory dinosaurs, and illustrate the primordial nature of this creature.
The new sauropod offers further insights into the distant past. Spinophorosaurus lived in the northern parts of the Jurassic continent Gondwana, in what is now northern Africa. In 2007, the international team discovered its remains in 170-million-year-old rocks in central Niger. Other primitive sauropods were previously known from a few and often fragmentary skeletons from South Gondwana (today South America and India) and from China. However, the former are markedly distinct from Spinophorosaurus.
“The South Gondwanan sauropods may represent a specialized group”, Remes says. A gigantic desert separated South Gondwana from the homeland of Spinophorosaurus in the North, near the equator. Remes suggests that the warm, wet equatorial climate at that time led to the differentiation of Spinophorosaurus from the southern sauropods, which had to cope with different fodder and dry summers.
Where you can find out more: Citation: Remes K, Ortega F, Fierro I, Joger U, Kosma R, et al. (2009) A New Basal Sauropod Dinosaur from the Middle Jurassic of Niger and the Early Evolution of Sauropoda. PLoS ONE 4(9): e6924. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0006924
Research Blogging citation: Remes K, Ortega F, Fierro I, Joger U, & Kosma R (2009). A New Basal Sauropod Dinosaur from the Middle Jurassic of Niger and the Early Evolution of Sauropoda PLoS ONE, 4 (9)