The Palaeontological Collection of the University of Tübingen contains one of the largest assemblages of Sauropodomorph Dinosaurs in Europe, but also one of the least studied. Much of this material was collected from sites around Tübingen, Aixheim and Löwenstein in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and classified under the genus Plateosaurus.
The genus Plateosaurus was once used to classify almost all non-Sauropod Sauropodomorph Dinosaurs, and by the mid twentieth century contained over 20 species, of which only four are considered valid today. Unfortunately, while it is now recognised that the non-Sauropod Sauropodomorph Dinosaurs are a more diverse group than once understood, and that understanding this diversity is the key to understanding the emergence of the true Sauropods, one of the most remarkable groups of organisms ever to appear on Earth, several rival schemes for the classification of this group have appeared, hampering this understanding.
In a paper published in the journal Vertebrate Zoology on 8 September 2022, Omar Rafael Regalado Fernández of the Fachbereich Geowissenschaften an der Universität Tübingen, and Ingmar Werneburg, also of the Fachbereich Geowissenschaften an der Universität Tübingen, and of the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment an der Universität Tübingen, describe a new species of Sauropodomorph Dinosaur from the Palaeontological Collection of the University of Tübingen, based upon a specimen, GPIT-PV-30787, collected from Lower Dinosaur Bed at Obere Mühle in 1932.
The complex nature of Sauropodomorph Dinosaur taxonomy meant that Regalado Fernández and Werneburg were obliged to carry out multiple phylogenetic analyses in order to try to accommodate specimen GPIT-PV-30787 into the competing phylogenies for the group. Fortunately, these produced reasonably consistent results, with the specimen being found to be closely related to Schleitheimia schutzi, making it a Massopodan Sauropodomorph, close to the origin of the true Sauropods.
Based upon this information, Regalado Fernández and Werneburg describe specimen GPIT-PV-30787 as the holotype of a new species, giving it the name Tuebingosaurus maierfritzorum, where 'Tuebingosaurus' refers to Tübingen and 'maierfritzorum' honours Wolfgang Maier, professor of evolutionary zoology in Tübingen from 1987 to 2007, and Uwe Fritz, former editor-in-chief of the journal Vertebrate Zoology.
Specimen GPIT-PV-30787 comprises a complete pelvis (three sacral vertebrae, two ilia, two pubes, two ischia), five anterior caudal vertebrae, four chevrons, left femur, left tibia, left and right fibulae, left astragalus, left calcaneum, metatarsal I, and pedal fingers 3 and 4.
Regalado Fernández and Werneburg's phylogeny suggests that Tuebingosaurus maierfritzorum is a Massopodan, making it the earliest member of the group known from the Upper Triassic Trossingen Beds. Despite this taxonomic placement, Tuebingosaurus maierfritzorum still shares a number of features more generally associated with Plateosaurian Sauropodomorphs, most notably a heel-like projection in the posterior part of the ischiadic peduncle of the ilium and a straight lateral margin in metatarsal II, features which led to the assumption that this was a specimen of Plateosaurus.
This presence of Plateosaurian-like features in early Massopodan Dinosaurs is unlikely to be unique to Tuebingosaurus maierfritzorum, and re-examination of other historic specimens at Tübingen and other palaeontological collections may provide more examples, helping to unravel the origins of the Sauropods.
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