Tito Aureliano
Aline M. Ghilardi
Rodrigo T. Müller
Leonardo Kerber
Flávio A. Pretto
Marcelo A. Fernandes
Fresia Ricardi-Branco
Mathew J. Wedel

The origin of the air sac system present in birds has been an enigma for decades. Skeletal pneumaticity related to an air sac system is present in both derived non-avian dinosaurs and pterosaurs. But the question remained open whether this was a shared trait present in the common avemetatarsalian ancestor. We analyzed three taxa from the Late Triassic of South Brazil, which are some of the oldest representatives of this clade (233.23 ± 0.73 Ma), including two sauropodomorphs and one herrerasaurid. All three taxa present shallow lateral fossae in the centra of their presacral vertebrae. Foramina are present in many of the fossae but at diminutive sizes consistent with neurovascular rather than pneumatic origin. Micro-tomography reveals a chaotic architecture of dense apneumatic bone tissue in all three taxa. The early sauropodomorphs showed more complex vascularity, which possibly served as the framework for the future camerate and camellate pneumatic structures of more derived saurischians. Finally, the evidence of the absence of postcranial skeletal pneumaticity in the oldest dinosaurs contradicts the homology hypothesis for an invasive diverticula system and suggests that this trait evolved independently at least 3 times in pterosaurs, theropods, and sauropodomorphs.

Frésia Soledad Ricardi Torres Branco