Probable basal allosauroid from the early Middle Jurassic Cañadón Asfalto Formation of Argentina highlights phylogenetic uncertainty in tetanuran theropod dinosaurs
Tetanurae, the most successful clade of theropod dinosaurs, including modern birds, split into three major clades early in their evolutionary history: Megalosauroidea, Coelurosauria, and Allosauroidea. The oldest tetanurans occur in the earliest Middle Jurassic, but the early fossil record of the clade is still poor. Here we report one of the oldest known and most complete pre-Late Jurassic tetanuran, the probable allosauroid Asfaltovenator vialidadi gen. et sp. nov., which has an unusual character combination, uniting features currently considered to be apomorphic of different tetanuran lineages. A phylogenetic analysis resulted in a monophyletic Carnosauria (Allosauroidea + Megalosauroidea), and the inclusion of the new taxon significantly changes topology within carnosaurs. The analysis shows concentrated homoplasy in proximal nodes at the base of Tetanurae, and a temporal peak at the Pliensbachian-Toarcian extinction event, recently identified as a potential driver of tetanuran radiation. These results highlight the complex morphological evolution in the early radiation of tetanuran theropods, in which convergences and parallelisms were extremely common. This pattern seems to be a common feature in rapid radiation events of major clades of vertebrates and might explain the common difficulties to unravel phylogenetic relationships of important lineages at the base of major clades.