A new phylogenetic analysis of Phytosauria (Archosauria: Pseudosuchia) with the application of continuous and geometric morphometric character coding

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Phytosauria is a clade of large, carnivorous, semi-aquatic archosauromorphs which reached its peak diversity and an almost global distribution in the Late Triassic (c. 230-201 Mya). Previous phylogenetic analyses of Phytosauria have either focused primarily on the relationships of specific subclades, or were limited in taxonomic scope, and no taxonomically comprehensive dataset is currently available. We here present the most taxonomically comprehensive cladistic dataset of phytosaurs to date, based on extensive first-hand study, identification of novel characters and synthesis of previous matrices. This results in an almost twofold increase in phylogenetic information scored per taxon over previous analyses. Alongside a traditional discrete character matrix, three variant matrices were analysed in which selected characters were coded using continuous and landmarking methods, to more rigorously explore phytosaur relationships. Based on these four data matrices, four tree topologies were recovered. Relationships among non-leptosuchomorph phytosaurs are largely consistent between these four topologies, whereas those of more derived taxa are more variable. Rutiodon carolinensis consistently forms a sister relationship with Angistorhinus. In three topologies Nicrosaurus nests deeply within a group of traditionally non-Mystriosuchini taxa, leading us to redefine Mystriosuchini by excluding Nicrosaurus as an internal specifier. Two distinct patterns of relationships within Mystriosuchini are present in the four topologies, distinguished largely by the variable position of Mystriosuchus. In two topologies Mystriosuchus forms the most basal clade in Mystriosuchini, whilst in the others it occupies a highly derived position within the Machaeroprosopus clade. 'Redondasaurus' is consistently recovered as monophyletic; however, it also nests within the Machaeroprosopus clade. The greatest impact on tree topology was associated with the incorporation of continuous data into our matrices, with landmark characters exerting a relatively modest influence. All topologies correlated significantly with stratigraphic range estimates. Topological variability in our results highlights clades in which further investigation may better elucidate phytosaur relationships.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere5901
Publication statusPublished - 10 Dec 2018


  • Phytosauria
  • Phylogenetics
  • Continuous
  • Geometric morphometric
  • Landmark
  • Character coding
  • Implied weighting


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