Article: A neglected lineage of North American turtles fills a major gap in the fossil record
Walter G. Joyce and Tyler R. Lyson
The fossil record of the two primary subclades of softshell turtles (Trionychidae) is exceedingly asymmetric, as a result of a ghost range of total clade Cyclanorbinae that is estimated at 80 Ma. Herein, we present the first phylogenetic analysis of Trionychidae that includes a representative of the poorly studied taxon Plastomenidae, which is known from the Campanian to Eocene of North America. The analysis reveals that plastomenids are stem cyclanorbines, thus significantly reducing the apparent ghost range of total group Cyclanorbinae to approximately 30 Ma. Plastomenids are either an early branching clade of stem Cyclanorbinae, or they represent a paraphyletic grade that gave rise to modern cyclanorbines. Although abundant, the fossil record is still too poorly understood to distinguish between these two primary hypotheses. The previously persistent extremely long ghost range of total clade Cyclanorbinae appears to have been the result of a research bias.