Variation, variability, and the origin of the avian endocranium: Insights from the anatomy of alioramus altai (theropoda: Tyrannosauroidea)

Gabe S. Bever, Stephen L. Brusatte, Amy M. Balanoff, Mark A. Norell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The internal braincase anatomy of the holotype of Alioramus altai, a relatively small-bodied tyrannosauroid from the Late Cretaceous of Mongolia, was studied using high-resolution computed tomography. A number of derived characters strengthen the diagnosis of this taxon as both a tyrannosauroid and a unique, new species (e.g., endocranial position of the gasserian ganglion, internal ramification of the facial nerve). Also present are features intermediate between the basal theropod and avialan conditions that optimize as the ancestral condition for Coelurosauria-a diverse group of derived theropods that includes modern birds. The expression of several primitive theropod features as derived character states within Tyrannosauroidea establishes previously unrecognized evolutionary complexity and morphological plasticity at the base of Coelurosauria. It also demonstrates the critical role heterochrony may have played in driving patterns of endocranial variability within the group and potentially reveals stages in the evolution of neuroanatomical development that could not be inferred based solely on developmental observations of the major archosaurian crown clades. We discuss the integration of paleontology with variability studies, especially as applied to the nature of morphological transformations along the phylogenetically long branches that tend to separate the crown clades of major vertebrate groups.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere23393
JournalPloS one
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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