Endocranial anatomy of plesiosaurians (Reptilia, Plesiosauria) from the Late Cretaceous (Turonian) of Goulmima (southern Morocco)
Despite recent advances in noninvasive imaging, Plesiosauria remains one of the least explored clades of reptiles with respect to paleoneuroanatomy. Only partial endocasts, obtained from either latex casts or imprints left on the braincase, have been described. In this contribution, the digital endocasts of three plesiosaurian specimens were analyzed: two referred to the elasmosaurid Libonectes morgani and one to Polycotylidae indet., all from the Late Cretaceous (Turonian) of Goulmima (Morocco). They were computed tomography (CT)-scanned to provide new anatomical information on the plesiosaurian endocast, endosseous labyrinth, and cranial nerves. Results show that the three endocasts are very similar to each other. They appear anteroposteriorly elongated and horizontally oriented in lateral view, with long olfactory tracts, relatively small and incomplete olfactory bulbs, a reduced pineal organ, distinguishable optic lobes, and a possible large cerebellum constituting the main component in size of the endocast. The endocranial features reconstructed here are compared with those of other plesiosaurians, as well as other marine reptiles, notably to discuss their intraspecific and interspecific variability. This study provides pioneer data in order to estimate the impact of both phylogenetic and ecological constraints on the endocranial morphology of plesiosaurians and proposes a few preliminary paleobiological suggestions.