A New 13 Million Year Old Gavialoid Crocodylian from Proto-Amazonian Mega-Wetlands Reveals Parallel Evolutionary Trends in Skull Shape Linked to Longirostry
Gavialoid crocodylians are the archetypal longirostrine archosaurs and, as such, understanding their patterns of evolution is fundamental to recognizing cranial rearrangements and reconstructing adaptive pathways associated with elongation of the rostrum (longirostry). The living Indian gharial Gavialis gangeticus is the sole survivor of the group, thus providing unique evidence on the distinctive biology of its fossil kin. Yet phylogenetic relationships and evolutionary ecology spanning ~70 million-years of longirostrine crocodylian diversification remain unclear. Analysis of cranial anatomy of a new proto-Amazonian gavialoid, Gryposuchus pachakamue sp. nov., from the Miocene lakes and swamps of the Pebas Mega-Wetland System reveals that acquisition of both widely separated and protruding eyes (telescoped orbits) and riverine ecology within South American and Indian gavialoids is the result of parallel evolution. Phylogenetic and morphometric analyses show that, in association with longirostry, circumorbital bone configuration can evolve rapidly for coping with trends in environmental conditions and may reflect shifts in feeding strategy. Our results support a long-term radiation of the South American forms, with taxa occupying either extreme of the gavialoid morphospace showing preferences for coastal marine versus fluvial environments. The early biogeographic history of South American gavialoids was strongly linked to the northward drainage system connecting proto-Amazonian wetlands to the Caribbean region.
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