Paleontologists have identified a new species of titanosaurian dinosaur. The research is reported in a paper published this week in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology and is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
The new species is a member of the gigantic, long-necked sauropods. Its fossil remains were recovered from Cretaceous Period (70-100 million years ago) rocks in southwestern Tanzania.
Titanosaur skeletons have been found worldwide, but are best known from South America. Fossils in this group are rare in Africa.
The new dinosaur is called Shingopana songwensis, derived from the Swahili term "shingopana" for "wide neck"; the fossils were discovered in the Songwe region of the Great Rift Valley in southwestern Tanzania.
Part of the Shingopana skeleton was excavated in 2002 by scientists affiliated with the Rukwa Rift Basin Project, an international effort led by Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine researchers Patrick O'Connor and Nancy Stevens.
Additional portions of the skeleton - including neck vertebrae, ribs, a humerus and part of the lower jaw - were later recovered.
Researchers conducted phylogenetic analyses to understand the evolutionary relationships of these and other titanosaurs.
They found that Shingopana was more closely related to titanosaurs of South America than to any of the other species currently known from Africa or elsewhere.
During the tectonically active Cretaceous Period, southern Africa lost Madagascar and Antarctica as they split off to the east and south, followed by the gradual northward "unzipping" of South America.
Northern Africa maintained a land connection with South America, but southern Africa slowly became more isolated until the continents completely separated 95-105 million years ago. Other factors such as terrain and climate may have further isolated southern Africa.
The bones of Shingopana, he found, were damaged by the borings of ancient insects shortly after death.