A new North American therizinosaurid and the role of herbivory in ‘predatory’ dinosaur evolution

Lindsay E. Zanno, David D. Gillette, L. Barry Albright, Alan L. Titus


Historically, ecomorphological inferences regarding theropod (i.e. ‘predatory’) dinosaurs were guided by an assumption that they were singularly hypercarnivorous. A recent plethora of maniraptoran discoveries has produced evidence challenging this notion. Here, we report on a new species of maniraptoran theropod, Nothronychus graffami sp. nov. Relative completeness of this specimen permits a phylogenetic reassessment of Therizinosauria—the theropod clade exhibiting the most substantial anatomical evidence of herbivory. In the most comprehensive phylogenetic study of the clade conducted to date, we recover Therizinosauria as the basalmost maniraptoran lineage. Using concentrated changes tests, we present evidence for correlated character evolution among herbivorous and hypercarnivorous taxa and propose ecomorphological indicators for future interpretations of diet among maniraptoran clades. Maximum parsimony optimizations of character evolution within our study indicate an ancestral origin for dietary plasticity and facultative herbivory (omnivory) within the clade. These findings suggest that hypercarnivory in paravian dinosaurs is a secondarily derived dietary specialization and provide a potential mechanism for the invasion of novel morpho- and ecospace early in coelurosaurian evolution—the loss of obligate carnivory and origin of dietary opportunism.


    • Received June 15, 2009.
    • Accepted June 22, 2009.
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