A sauropod from the Lower Jurassic La Quinta Formation (Dept. Cesar, Colombia) and the initial diversification of eusauropods at low latitudes
The northern-most occurrence of Sauropoda in South America was collected in the 1940s from Early–Middle Jurassic-aged continental sediments on the western flank of the Serranía del Perijá in Colombia. Relocation of the site and re-preparation of the specimen, a well-preserved dorsal vertebra, provide important information about the initial diversification of sauropods at low latitudes. The specimen possesses autapomorphies and a unique combination of character states (e.g., divided centropostzygapophyseal lamina, strongly dorsally arched postzygapophyseal facets) that diagnose it as the new genus and species Perijasaurus lapaz. A medium-sized early eusauropod, Perijasaurus inhabited tropical lowland forested areas around the Toarcian–Aalenian boundary. Our phylogenetic analysis recovers Perijasaurus near the base of Eusauropoda, in an unresolved position near Cetiosaurus, Patagosaurus and kin (Bagualia, Spinophorosaurus, Nebulasaurus), and more deeply nested eusauropods. The phylogenetic position of Perijasaurus bolsters the idea that eusauropods achieved a broad geographic distribution during the Early–Middle Jurassic, before the deeper fragmentation of Pangea and after the Toarcian faunal turnover documented at high southern latitudes. Perijasaurus and other basally diverging sauropods display an intermediate level of bone weight reduction in the axial column that represents an antecedent to the more highly developed pneumatic system characterizing Neosauropoda.