A re-evaluation of Brachiosaurus altithorax Riggs 1903 (Dinosauria, Sauropoda) and its generic separation from Giraffatitan brancai (Janensch 1914)

9th September 2009

Palaeobiology Research Group, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Portsmouth, Burnaby Road, Portsmouth PO1 3QL, United Kingdom
Current address: Department of Earth Sciences, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, United Kingdom.

ABSTRACT--Although the macronarian sauropod Brachiosaurus is one of the most iconic dinosaurs, its popular image is based almost entirely on the referred African species Brachiosaurus brancai rather than the North American type species Brachiosaurus altithorax. Reconsideration of Janensch's referral of the African species to the American genus shows that it was based on only four synapomorphies and would not be considered a convincing argument today. Detailed study of the bones of both species show that they are distinguished by at least 26 characters of the dorsal and caudal vertebrae, coracoids, humeri, ilia, and femora, with the dorsal vertebrae being particularly different between the two species. These animals must therefore be considered generically separate, and the genus name Giraffatitan Paul 1988 must be used for "Brachiosaurus" brancai, in the combination Giraffatitan brancai. A phylogenetic analysis treating the two species as separate OTUs nevertheless recovers them as sister taxa in all most parsimonious trees, reaffirming a monophyletic Brachiosauridae, although only one additional step is required for Giraffatitan to clade among somphospondylians to the exclusion of Brachiosaurus. The American Brachiosaurus is shown to be somewhat different from Giraffatitan in overall bodily proportions: it had a longer and deeper trunk and probably a longer and taller tail, carried a greater proportion of its mass on the forelimbs, and may have had somewhat sprawled forelimbs. Even though it was overall a larger animal than the Giraffatitan lectotype, the Brachiosaurus holotype was probably immature, as its coracoids were not fused to its scapulae.


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