Duane Nash already did a good breakdown of what the article means in terms of theropod dinosaurs and how to relate the findings of Brink et al. to modern correlates as well as exploring what they could mean in terms of feeding and prey capture methods in various dinosaurs. If you haven't read his blog I'll wait.
Okay. Back? Good. As you can tell from both the article and the blog Brink et al. reject the stress-induced formation hypothesis for these interdental folds, as has been suggested previously. Instead they find that these structures are present even before stresses are placed on the teeth - while the unerupted teeth are still in the alveoli. So what does that have to do with Triassic teeth?
If you read the article you will see they sampled a few non-dinosaurian taxa (a phytosaur and an indeterminate Cretaceous croc) as well as the Triassic theropod Coelophysis. We have an abundance of phytosaur teeth at Comb Ridge and have picked up a few teeth we have tentatively IDed as theropod. So not only is Brink et al. a cool paper, it deals with some of our Triassic friends too!
|Two views of phytosaur teeth in SEM and thin section, both from Brink et al. (2015), CC-BY|
Image C shows mesial denticles under SEM and thin section. D shows a thin section with enamel, globular dentine, and primary dentine.
|A Redondasaurus attacks a decent sized prey item - a silesaurid. From Edyta Felcyn: go support her art!|
|Damaged psuedosuchian femur. The phytosaur attack is represented by the embedded tooth in Box A. Image from Drumheller et al. (2014).|
If encounters like this were rare and the exception to the normal behavior of phytosaurs then the fossils described by Drumheller et al. are truly remarkable. Between the marked heterodonty found in adult phytosaurs described by Hungerbühler (2000) and the new evidence that they possessed dental adaptations that enabled them to capture, kill, and process prey larger than them it seems unlikely that this was a one-off chance encounter.
|Ventral view of phytosaur snouts from Hungerbühler (2000). Note the different size and shapes of the teeth in this view.|
An interesting point to consider too: if phytosaurs were more like Nile Crocodiles than gharials, why don't we see ziphodont dentition in crocs? Certainly wildebeast and zebra don't give up after a fight. Brink et al. note that their Cretaceous croc also lacks ziphodont dentition, suggesting the behavior of crocs and their prey haven't changed much. Modern crocs are obviously capable of tackling large prey (though usually not larger than their own body). If they have gone hundreds of millions of years without the interdental folds and can eat large land prey, what were phytosaurs doing different?
Crocodiles and their prey in Africa - 2:57 from National Geographic
We don't have the fossils to answer that definitively but it would appear that modern crocodiles are not as good of an analogy for phytosaurs as has long been supposed. Hopefully future work at Comb Ridge and across Triassic collections will lead to new insights, clarifying what this unique clade was doing.
As an end note, Brink et al. suggest that ziphodont dentition with interdental folds is basal to all theropods, even thought phytosaurs possess the same tooth structure. It would have been nice to look at things like pseudosuchians from the Triassic to see if similar dental structure existed. If so, perhaps this sort of adaptation dates back to the rise of archosaurs in general. I guess that's another paper for another time.
Next up from me: a return to the lighter side. I'm going to be reviewing Richard Delgado's new Age of Reptiles comic series, Ancient Egyptians!
Brink, K. S., Reisz, R. R., LeBlanc, A. R. H., Chang, R. S., Lee, Y. C., Chiang, C. C., ... & Evans, D. C. (2015). Developmental and evolutionary novelty in the serrated teeth of theropod dinosaurs. Scientific reports, 5.
Drumheller, S. K., Stocker, M. R., & Nesbitt, S. J. (2014). Direct evidence of trophic interactions among apex predators in the Late Triassic of western North America. Naturwissenschaften, 101(11), 975-987.