Diplodocoid dinosaurs were distributed across the supercontinent Pangaea, suggests a paper published in Nature Communications this week. The study reports a new diplodocoid species from the early Middle Jurassic of China (approximately 174 million years ago), challenging conventional views on the origin and dispersal of diplodocoids and other neosauropods.
Sauropods were long-necked, herbivorous dinosaurs and among the longest and largest land animals to have lived. It has been thought that advanced sauropods, the neosauropods, diversified during the breakup of Pangaea and had not reached East Asia before it became isolated.
Xing Xu and colleagues excavated several partial skeletons of a new previously unknown species of diplodocoid dinosaur from the Lingwu region of China, naming it Lingwulong shenqi (literally, the Lingwu amazing dragon). The fossils date from around 174 million years ago, making this species the earliest known neosauropod.
Evolutionary and biogeographic analyses including the new species now suggest that neosauropods were already diverse and widespread in the Middle Jurassic (about 174 to 163 million years ago), rather than rapidly becoming dominant at the transition to the Late Jurassic (163 to 145 million years ago) as previously thought. Furthermore, major sauropod groups may have originated in the Early Jurassic.