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Salt glands in the Jurassic metriorhynchid Geosaurus: implications for the evolution of osmoregulation in Mesozoic marine crocodyliforms

Fernández, Marta, Gasparini, Zulma
Naturwissenschaften 2008 v.95 no.1 pp. 79-84
adults, fossils, freshwater, juveniles, models, osmolality, osmoregulation, phylogeny, reptiles, seawater, skull, Argentina
The presence of salt-excreting glands in extinct marine sauropsids has been long suspected based on skull morphology. Previously, we described for the first time the natural casts of salt-excreting glands in the head of the Jurassic metriorhynchid crocodyliform Geosaurus araucanensis from the Tithonian of the Vaca Muerta Formation in the Neuquén Basin (Argentina). In the present study, salt-excreting glands are identified in three new individuals (adult, a sub-adult and a juvenile) referable to the same species. New material provides significant information on the salt glands form and function and permit integration of evolutionary scenarios proposed on a physiological basis in extant taxa with evidence from the fossil record. G. araucanensis represents an advanced stage of the basic physiological model to marine adaptations in reptiles. G. araucanensis salt glands were hypertrophied. On this basis, it can be hypothesized that these glands had a high excretory capability. This stage implies that G. araucanensis (like extant pelagic reptiles, e.g. cheloniids) could have maintained constant plasma osmolality even when seawater or osmoconforming prey were ingested. A gradual model of marine adaptation in crocodyliforms based on physiology (freshwater to coastal/estuarine to estuarine /marine to pelagic life) is congruent with the phylogeny of crocodyliforms based on skeletal morphology. The fossil record suggests that the stage of marine pelagic adaptation was achieved by the Early Middle Jurassic. Salt gland size in the juvenile suggests that juveniles were, like adults, pelagic.