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Isolated bones versus articulated skeletons: the problem of parataxonomy in fossil squamates
SVPCA Conference
Platform presentation (20 minutes)
*Alexandra Houssaye
Jean-Claude Rage
Squamate remains are very often constituted by only isolated bones, among which vertebrae are by far the most numerous. On the other hand, some specimens are preserved as more or less complete articulated skeletons. The descriptions and diagnoses are mainly elaborated from these specimens and therefore mostly based on skull material (Haber and Polcyn, 2005). Such preservation requires particular environmental depositional conditions and articulated fossils are consequently rare. This explains the fact that, even if they are informative phylogenetically, they cannot be used in palaeobiogeographic studies or stratigraphic correlations. On the contrary, isolated vertebrae are more frequent and may provide data for these kinds of studies. That is why their taxonomic determination is required. Unfortunately, they cannot be compared thoroughly to articulated fossils, the latter providing only incomplete information relative to the vertebral anatomy as most of the diagnostic vertebral characters are on the anterior and posterior faces that are not observable on these specimens. Several taxa are therefore only based on vertebral characters and may in fact be synonyms of other taxa described from articulated material. This results in the use of a possible parataxonomy. This problem is frequent within basal pythonomorphs like basal mosasauroids, “dolichosaurs” and “hind-limbed snakes” and will thus be illustrated within these taxa. The future discoveries of associated skull remains and disarticulated vertebrae and/or the isolation of vertebrae from articulated specimens (when possible) could reveal these synonymies and start to resolve this question.
London 2020