The Royal Society

Supplementary material from "An intermediate crocodylian linking two extant gharials from the Bronze Age of China and its human-induced extinction"

Posted on 2022-03-02 - 08:49
A solid phylogenetic framework is the basis of biological studies, yet higher level relationships are still unresolved in some major vertebrate lineages. One such group is Crocodylia, where the branching pattern of three major families (Alligatoridae, Crocodylidae and Gavialidae) has been disputed over decades due to the uncertain relationship of two slender-snouted lineages, gavialines and tomistomines. Here, we report a bizarre crocodylian from the Bronze Age of China that shows a mosaic of gavialine and tomistomine features across the skeleton, rendering support to their sister taxon relationship as molecular works have consistently postulated. Gavialine characters of the new Chinese crocodylian include a novel configuration of the pterygoid bulla, a vocal structure known in mature male Indian gharials. Extinct gavialines have repeatedly evolved potentially male-only acoustic apparatus of various shapes, illuminating the deep history of sexual selection on acoustic signalling in a slender-snouted group of crocodylians. Lastly, a cutmark analysis combined with AMS radiocarbon dating of bone remains demonstrated that two individuals from Shang and Zhou dynasties in Guangdong, China, suffered head injuries and decapitation. Archaeological evidence together with historical accounts suggests the human-induced extinction of this unique crocodylian only a few hundred years ago.


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