Date of this Version
Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 30:3 (2010), pp. 696–703; doi: 10.1080/02724631003758086
Vertebrate fossils from the Ruhuhu Basin of southern Tanzania have been known for over 75 years, but the details of their stratigraphic distribution remain imperfectly understood. Recent fieldwork in the Upper Permian Usili Formation (Songea Group) has led to the discovery of a tetrapod assemblage in a conglomeratic unit at its base. The fossils are concentrated in matrix-supported intraformational clay pebble conglomerates interpreted as mass flow deposits in wide, shallow channels in the distal reaches of an alluvial fan. Included in this new collection are fossils representing the first record of a burnetiid therapsid from Tanzania. The anatomy of the interorbital and intertemporal skull roof indicates that the Usili burnetiid most closely resembles Burnetia from the Dicynodon Assemblage Zone of South Africa’s Beaufort Group. Review of the Usili Formation tetrapod fauna recognizes 29 genera, 6 of which are endemic (Katumbia, Kawingasaurus, Pachytegos, Peltobatrachus, Ruhuhucerberus, Titanogorgon, as well as a new, undescribed cryptodontian dicynodont). In addition, eight genera are shared between the basal conglomerate and rocks higher in section, which suggests that the available data fail to support the recognition of two faunal horizons within the Usili Formation, as was suggested previously. The recognition of a single (undivided) Usili tetrapod fauna calls for several therapsid genera to have unequal stratigraphic ranges (and temporal durations) in the Ruhuhu and Karoo basins. We suggest that the fine-scale biostratigraphic utility of therapsids likely diminishes between basins, especially when rates of subsidence, depositional setting, and paleoenvironment are taken into consideration.