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Biology of the Sauropod Dinosaurs: Understanding the Life of Giants

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Sauropods, those huge plant-eating dinosaurs, possessed bodies that seem to defy every natural law. What were these creatures like as living animals and how could they reach such uniquely gigantic sizes? A dedicated group of researchers in Germany in disciplines ranging from engineering and materials science to animal nutrition and paleontology went in search of the answers to these questions. Biology of the Sauropod Dinosaurs reports on the latest results from this seemingly disparate group of research fields and integrates them into a coherent theory regarding sauropod gigantism. Covering nutrition, physiology, growth, and skeletal structure and body plans, this volume presents the most up-to-date knowledge about the biology of these enormous dinosaurs.

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1. Sauropod Biology and the Evolution of Gigantism: What do we Know?

ePub

MARCUS CLAUSS

Life scientists are concerned with the description of the life forms that exist and how they work—an inventory of what is. Additionally, life scientists want to understand why life forms are what they are—from both a historical and functional perspective. Evolutionary theory offers a link between both perspectives via the sequence of organisms that have evolved and are constantly adapting to their environment by natural selection. But, still unsatisfied, life scientists want to discover why selection acts in a certain way. We want to understand what is within the framework of what is possible, by distilling universal rules from our inventories to understand the limitations of what could be. Only if we understand what is possible will we be ready to accept historical reasons for the absence of a life form. ‘‘It just didn’t happen’’ will only sound plausible and satisfying if we know whether it could have.

With this approach, any expansion of the inventory of what is will automatically lead to a reevaluation of those theories that explain what is possible. Every discovery of a new species or a new ecosystem will make such a reevaluation necessary; the more the new discovery deviates from what has been recorded so far, the more necessary the reevaluation. In this respect, dinosaurs are invaluable to us. They expand the inventory of life forms that have developed at some stage during the existence of our planet and evidently must have been subjected to a similar set of constraints that we assume for extant life forms. Yet because they are different enough, they are a challenge to our concepts—an outgroup against which our biological understanding must be tested. Therefore, as Dodson (1990) put it, advancing our understanding of dinosaurs also means understanding the world we live in.

 

2. Sauropod Feeding and Digestive Physiology

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JÜRGEN HUMMEL AND MARCUS CLAUSS

Sauropod dinosaurs dominated the large herbivore niche in many Mesozoic ecosystems. On the basis of evidence from extant herbivores, significant symbiotic gut microbe activity can safely be inferred for these animals. A hindgut fermentation chamber as in horses or elephants appears more likely than a foregut system. Sauropods are unusual in several herbivore-relevant features such as their large foraging range (due to a long neck), apparent lack of food comminution (which is highly untypical for large extant herbivores), and their extremely high body weights (which is likely linked to several key features of herbivore foraging and digestion). On the basis of regressions on extant herbivores, their gut capacity can be safely assumed to have been highly comprehensive in relation to energy requirements. This can, but need not necessarily, imply extremely long food retention times. Besides these animal features, the spectrum of food plants available for sauropods in sufficient quantity (sphenophytes, pteridophytes, and gymnosperms) was completely different from that of extant herbivores (mostly angiosperms), which has some potential implications for the respective harvesters of these plants. Gymnosperms have a tendency to facilitate rather large cropping sizes (measured in kilograms of dry matter per bite) and therefore large intakes. In vitro digestibility of several living representatives of potential sauropod food plants was estimated to be better than expected, and at least comparable to the level of extant browse. Although sauropods are different from extant large herbivores in several aspects, they must be considered one of the greatest success stories in the long history of large animal herbivory.

 

3. Dietary Options for the Sauropod Dinosaurs from an Integrated Botanical and Paleobotanical Perspective

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CAROLE T. GEE

During the majority of the Mesozoic, from the Triassic to the mid Cretaceous, the food plants of the sauropod dinosaurs were virtually limited to ferns, fern allies, and gymnosperms because the diversification of the angiosperms, which include the broad-leaved trees and grasses of today, only began in the Late Cretaceous. In this chapter, the preferences of the sauropods for one or more of these Mesozoic plant groups are evaluated by means of a survey approach that integrates botanical and paleobotanical data. These data include the growth habits of the nearest living relatives of these plant groups, their habitat, the amount of biomass produced, and the ability to regrow shoots, branches, and leaves after injury through herbivory. The relative quantities of energy and essential nutrients yielded to herbivores with hindgut fermentation, the consumption of the various plant groups by modern herbivores, and the coeval occurrence of sauropods and individual plant groups in the fossil record are other major factors taken into consideration here. As a result of this extensive survey, it appears that Araucaria, Equisetum, the Cheirolepidiaceae (an extinct conifer family), and Ginkgo would have been most accessible, sustaining, and/or preferred sources of food for the sauropods. Moderately accessible, sustaining, and/or commonly encountered plants would have been other conifers such as the Podocarpaceae, Cupressaceae, and Pinaceae. Less commonly browsed by the sauropods, especially by large, fully grown individuals, would have been forest-dwelling ferns such as Angiopteris and Osmunda. The least frequently eaten plants were probably the cycads and bennettitaleans.

 

4. The Diet of Sauropod Dinosaurs: Implications of Carbon Isotope Analysis on Teeth, Bones, and Plants

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THOMAS TÜTKEN

Sauropods were megaherbivores that fed predominantly on nonangiosperm vegetation such as gymnosperms, sphenophytes, and pteridophytes. In this chapter, the potential of carbon isotope (δ13C) analysis in skeletal apatite for inferring the diet and niche partitioning of sauropods was tested. The carbon isotope composition of food plants is transferred with a metabolic offset to higher trophic levels along the food chain, which suggests that differences in isotopic composition of sauropod food plants can be used to infer sauropod feeding behavior. For this purpose, the δ13C values of sauropod bones and teeth, primarily from the Late Jurassic Morrison Formation, USA, and the Tendaguru Beds, Tanzania, East Africa, were analyzed, as were the leaves of extant and fossil potential sauropod food plants such as Araucaria, cycads, ferns, horsetails, and ginkgo. The metabolic carbon isotope fractionation between diet and enamel apatite estimated for sauropods is 16‰. By means of this fractionation, a diet based only on terrestria C3 plants can be reconstructed for sauropods. Therefore, sauropods did not ingest significant amounts of plants with high, C4 plant-like δ13C values such as marine algae or C4 plants. However, plants that used crassulacean acid metabolism for biosynthesis and possibly freshwater aquatic plants may have contributed to the diet of sauropods. A more detailed discrimination of exactly which type of food plants was consumed by sauropods based on apatite δ13C values alone is difficult because taxon-specific differences between C3 plants are small and not well constrained. Mean enamel δ13C values of sympatric sauropods differ by approximately 3‰, which may indicate a certain niche partitioning. Differences in mean δ13C values for the living representatives of potential sauropod food plants suggest that a differentiation between low-browsing taxa feeding on ferns or horsetails with lower δ13C values and high-browsing taxa feeding on conifers with higher δ13C values might be possible.

 

5. Structure and Function of the Sauropod Respiratory System

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STEVEN F. PERRY, THOMAS BREUER, AND NADINE PAJOR

Because dinosaur lungs do not fossilize, reconstruction of the sauropod respiratory system must rely on indirect evidence. We combine extant phylogenetic bracketing and functional morphological approximation to draw conclusions on the structure and function of the sauropod respiratory system. The combination of these techniques leads to strong evidence for the presence of lungs that consisted of two parts: a gas exchange region that was attached to the ribs and vertebrae, and a sac-like region below the exchange region, close to the liver and intestine. This respiratory system is similar to the efficient lung–air sac system of birds. It is highly adaptable and could have served to supply oxygen, remove carbon dioxide, and help with temperature control.

Indirect evidence for the reconstruction of the respiratory system of extinct animals can come from the skeleton itself, mainly from the ribs and the rib cage. Most interesting here is the morphology of the uncinate processes, the course and density of Sharpey’s fibers within the ribs, and the heads of the ribs and their articulation to the vertebrae.

 

6. Reconstructing Body Volume and Surface Area of Dinosaurs Using Laser Scanning and Photogrammetry

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STEFAN STOINSKI, TIM SUTHAU, AND HANNS-CHRISTIAN GUNGA

Crucial baseline data in dinosaur paleobiology and for reconstructing dinosaurs as living animals are accurate measurements of one- to three-dimensional features such as length, surface area, and volume. Dinosaur skeletons mounted and on display in museums offer the opportunity to obtain such data and to create digital models of them. These models, in turn, serve as the basis for estimating physiological and other biological parameters. In this chapter, we provide an overview of data capture using laser scanning and photogrammetrical methods and describe the working steps from the captured point clouds of the skeleton to the final volume model. Because dinosaur skeletons are complex objects with irregular structures, laser scanning proved to be much more accurate for capturing their shape than previously used methods such as photogrammetry. The modeling of the body surface area and body volume with digital techniques is also more accurate than established methods that are based on scale models. Here, nonuniform rational B spline (NURBS) curves and CAD software are used to reconstruct the body surface and for surface area and volume calculations.

 

7. Body Mass Estimation, Thermoregulation, and Cardiovascular Physiology of Large Sauropods

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BERGITA GANSE, ALEXANDER STAHN, STEFAN STOINSKI, TIM SUTHAU, AND HANNS-CHRISTIAN GUNGA

This chapter provides an overview on thermoregulation and the cardiovascular physiology of sauropods on the basis of data obtained by laser scanning and surface modeling of the basal sauropodomorph Plateosaurus engelhardti and the basal macronarian sauropod Brachiosaurus brancai. Nonuniform rational B splines (NURBS) were used to obtain volume estimates of the thoracic cavity, and these estimates correspond well with vital organ masses as determined by allometric modeling. To reach body masses of about 50 metric tons, large sauropods might have had, at least partly during their life span, a high resting metabolic rate, and they might have been endothermic homeotherms to maintain thermoregulative control. Assuming a lack of sweat glands in sauropods, heat balance was likely to be regulated by processes of radiation, convection, and conduction. Heat transfer from the body surface via convection, especially during exercise (hyperthermia), was probably limited, and large bird-like air sacs as part of the lung structures might have served as ‘‘thermal windows’’ to help regulate the temperature. A four-chambered heart would have generated lower pressures in the pulmonary circulation and higher pressures in the systematic regulation. Additional physiological mechanisms such as high oxygen transport capacity, muscular venous pumps, tight skin layers, thick vessel walls, strong connective tissue, precapillary vasoconstriction, low permeability of capillaries to plasma proteins, and digital cushions in the feet were necessary to meet cardiovascular requirements by supporting fluid volume regulation and preventing edema in large sauropods. Thus, in regard to cardiovascular and thermoregulative control, sauropods were highly specialized animals.

 

8. How to Get Big in the Mesozoic: The Evolution of the Sauropodomorph Body Plan

ePub

OLIVER W. M. RAUHUT, REGINA FECHNER, KRISTIAN REMES, AND KATRIN REIS

Sauropod (or, more correctly, eusauropod) dinosaurs are highly distinctive, not only in their overall body form, but also in respect to many details of their anatomy. In comparison with basal dinosaurs, typical sauropods are characterized by small skulls, elongate necks, massive bodies, and an obligatory quadrupedal stance with elongate forelimbs and straight limbs in general. Tracing the anatomical changes that led to this distinctive body plan through sauropodomorph evolution is problematic as a result of the incompleteness of many basal taxa and phylogenetic uncertainty at the base of the clade. The decrease in skull size in sauropodomorphs seems to be abrupt at the base of the clade, but it is even more pronounced toward sauropods. Major changes in the sauropod skull are a relative shortening and broadening of the snout and an enlargement and retraction of the nares. Although the ultimate causes for these evolutionary changes are certainly manifold, most if not all of them seem to be related to the ecological and biomechanical requirements of the transition from a carnivorous to an herbivorous lifestyle, in which the skull is mainly used as a cropping device. A relatively elongate neck seems to be ancestral for sauropodomorphs, but the neck is further elongated on the lineage toward sauropods, especially by incorporation of two additional vertebrae at the base of Sauropoda. The relatively simple structure of the cervical vertebrae in basal sauropodomorphs might be a secondary reduction relative to basal saurischians as a result of changes in neck biomechanics in connection with the reduction of the size of the skull. Thus, the more complicated structure of sauropod cervicals probably reflects changing biomechanical requirements in connection with an elongation of the neck and an increase in body size, as does the opisthocoelous structure of the cervical vertebral centra. Limb evolution in sauropodomorphs is dominated by adaptations toward increasing body size and thus graviportality, with the limbs getting straighter and the distal limb segments relatively shorter. Body size increase in sauropodomorphs seems to have been rapid but even-paced, with the ancestral body size of the clade being in the 0–10 kg category, and the ancestral body size for sauropods probably being in the 1,000–10,000 kg category.

 

9. Characterization of Sauropod Bone Structure

ePub

MAÏTENA DUMONT, ANDRAS BORBÉLY, ALEKSANDER KOSTKA, P. MARTIN SANDER, AND ANKE KAYSSER-PYZALLA

This chapter describes the applications of some well established methods of material science in the examination of sauropod bone microstructure. Fossilized bone is characterized here at different levels of hierarchy, from the macro level (at which bone can be separated into cortical and cancellous bone) to the nano level (at which the bone is composed of an assemblage of collagen and mineral particles), and then compared to bone of extant animals. X-ray diffraction and fluorescence analysis in combination with electron microscopy permit the quantification of the influence of diagenetic processes on fossilized bone. The chapter emphasizes that there are a multitude of investigative techniques well suited for bone analysis at the different structural levels. For an in-depth understanding of dinosaur bone structure and its global preservation state, however, a combination of the methods is necessary.

 

10. Finite Element Analyses and Virtual Syntheses of Biological Structures and their Application to Sauropod Skulls

ePub

ULRICH WITZEL, JULIA MANNHARDT, RAINER GOESSLING, PASCAL DE MICHELI, AND HOLGER PREUSCHOFT

In morphology and paleontology, the analysis of bony structures began with the art of drawing and the technique of photography. The first analytical calculations were possible by using simplified models, and quantitative measurements of strains on bone surfaces provided important opportunities for interpreting bony structures in recent animals. The development of finite element structure analysis (FESA) was a decisive step in obtaining spatial information about strain and stress distribution in models of both extinct and extant creatures. However, the inductive approach of FESA does not provide precise explanations for the existence of bone tissue in a specific position of a given finite element model. In contrast to FESA, the deductive technique of finite element structure synthesis (FESS) was developed for deducing a biological structure from a few initial conditions and boundary conditions. This makes FESS ideal for discovering which morphological structures can be explained in terms of mechanics and which cannot. Three examples of the applications of FESS illustrate its power: the virtual synthesis of the skull of a Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis) and of the skulls of the sauropods Diplodocus and Camarasaurus. These studies demonstrate the utility of FESS for the virtual synthesis of bony structures to test assumptions and hypotheses regarding the relationship between function and structure. By obtaining a high degree of conformity between the virtual model and the real object, the method is satisfyingly validated.

 

11. Walking with the Shoulder of Giants: Biomechanical Conditions in the Tetrapod Shoulder Girdle as a Basis for Sauropod Shoulder Reconstruction

ePub

BIANCA HOHN

Most extant studies of dinosaur locomotor systems have concentrated on the hindlimbs and pelvic girdle. As a result, the functional morphology of the shoulder girdle and forelimbs is poorly understood. In this chapter, the biomechanics of the tetrapod shoulder girdle are investigated to provide a basis for understanding locomotion in sauropod dinosaurs. For this purpose, the finite element method is used in two different approaches. First, the basic static conditions of force transmission between the trunk and shoulder girdle in tetrapods are analyzed by means of rather simple finite element models. Second, a 3D finite element structure synthesis (FESS) of the scapulocoracoid in an extant crocodile was conducted. Because FESS is mainly based on Wolff’s law and Pauwels’s causal morphogenesis, both of which predict the relation between form and function in bones, this study examines the conditions at the shoulder girdle of a crocodilian (Caiman crocodylus) by synthesizing the scapulocoracoid. In doing so, the muscles that are necessary to keep the shoulder joints in equilibrium under static conditions were determined. Finally, a plausible reconstruction of the shoulder girdle in a sauropod dinosaur (Diplodocus longus) is presented. The reconstruction modeled on these results is discussed in detail, especially in view of their biomechanical implications for the statics of the shoulder girdle.

 

12. Why so Huge? Biomechanical Reasons for the Acquisition of Large Size in Sauropod and Theropod Dinosaurs

ePub

HOLGER PREUSCHOFT, BIANCA HOHN, STEFAN STOINSKI, AND ULRICH WITZEL

To understand gigantism, the pros and cons of large size must be clearly recognized. Although the disadvantages connected with extraordinary size are dealt with in the other chapters in this book, a better understanding of the biomechanical advantages of large body size is needed. We therefore focus on the question of which immediate, proximate advantages are connected with gigantic body size, and we analyze the biomechanical advantages and limitations of several size parameters. We discuss the neck length required for harvesting large volumes of food, which is limited by the muscle and skeletal mass necessary to maneuver a long neck. We also look at the limb length needed for increasing locomotor speed and reducing energy consumption per unit distance covered, although this is limited by reduced step frequency. Finally, in agonistic encounters, the decisive factors are the kinetic energy contained in the colliding bodies, and the forces and impulses exchanged between the animals. All factors depend on speed, so a deficiency of mass can be made up by greater speed. Great mass and length are equivalent to slowness, especially in the defensive and evasive movements of limbs and neck. Volume alone is a protective trait against bite attacks. Thickness of skin, and skeletal and muscular cover of the most vulnerable organs increase linearly with size. In short, an increase of body dimensions and body mass offers quantitative biomechanical advantages. These parameters, however, follow a linear or cube root function—that is, they are not very impressive, and in some cases, they reach asymptotes at larger sizes, so that their advantages become smaller with increasing size. Body mass and dimensions of body segments set limits to the quickness of evasive and defensive movements. After quantitatively defining the advantages and limitations on the basis of various biomechanical laws, we argue that these numerical advantages can be understood as selection pressures that have led to gigantism.

 

13. Plateosaurus in 3D: How CAD Models and Kinetic–Dynamic Modeling Bring an Extinct Animal to Life

ePub

HEINRICH MALLISON

Cad (computer-aided design) software combined with biomechanical considerations can be used to create extremely accurate skeletal reconstructions of dinosaurs and other extinct vertebrates. CAE (computer-aided engineering) methods that are based on such accurate models give insight into the way dinosaurs moved and behaved, and they greatly ease the task of calculating physical properties (such as position of the center of mass) compared to traditional methods. On the basis of a high-resolution 3D model of Plateosaurus, I show that this animal was an agile obligate biped with strong grasping hands. The assessment of possible postures and ranges of motions of the 3D model was done with a CAD program, while the total mass, mass distribution, and the position of the center of mass of the model were assessed with CAE software.

Biomechanics deals with the function and structure of biological systems. This chapter will address certain aspects within this broad field of study, focusing on the mechanics of posture and motion of animals. The prosauropod dinosaur Plateosaurus will be used as a detailed example of how two different modern computer technologies can aid research on extinct animals. CAD (computer-aided design) programs can be applied to the study of large assemblies of objects, for example, bones in a skeletal mount of a dinosaur, without the bother of actually having to lift and support the many, and often heavy, elements. Digital bones, in contrast, have no weight and cannot break, and are easily combined into a virtual skeleton in a CAD program. A virtual skeleton of Plateosaurus is used to assess the posture and range of motion of this animal. Additional information on posture and on locomotion capabilities is derived from CAE (computer-aided engineering) modeling, using a CAD model of the living animal based on the virtual skeleton. The CAE modeling can be used to determine the position of the center of mass (COM) and its shift when the animal moves, as well as joint torques and many other important physical parameters. This approach to biomechanical modeling was termed kinetic–dynamic modeling by Mallison (2007) because it derives information on the kinetics—the movements of the modeled animal—from the dynamics—the forces that cause this movement—and vice versa.

 

14. Rearing Giants: Kinetic–Dynamic Modeling of Sauropod Bipedal and Tripodal Poses

ePub

HEINRICH MALLISON

Because of their large body masses, sauropod dinosaurs must have required enormous amounts of plant matter to support their metabolism, even if one assumes a much lower metabolic rate in adults than in extant mammals and birds. Therefore, their methods of food acquisition are of interest, specifically how they procured a sufficient volume of food without expending unlikely large amounts of energy during feeding. Some, if not all, sauropods supposedly could rear up onto their hindlimbs to access food at heights beyond the reach of other herbivores, increasing their feeding envelopes without requiring energetically more costly locomotion. Kinetic–dynamic modeling in comparison with elephants indicates that at least diplodocids could rear easily and for prolonged times without significant exertion, while brachiosaurids were probably not capable of extended upright feeding. Modeling results also suggest that optimizing body shape for rearing by a posterior shift of the center of mass may be detrimental to locomotory abilities.

 

15. Neck Posture in Sauropods

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ANDREAS CHRISTIAN AND GORDON DZEMSKI

The neck posture in sauropod dinosaurs is a crucial feature that affects their biomechanics, physiology, ecology, and evolution. Yet neck posture and utilization in sauropods are still controversial topics. In this chapter, we use a biomechanical approach to reconstruct the habitual neck posture of sauropods. The analysis is based on a comparison of stresses on the intervertebral cartilage along the vertebral column of the neck. In previous studies on extant animals with long necks, this method has shown to yield reliable results. The habitual neck posture is shown to differ considerably among sauropods. At least in some sauropod species, the long sauropod neck was biomechanically capable of both feeding at great heights and sweeping over a large feeding area without moving much of the body. Differences in neck posture indicate that the feeding strategy varied among sauropods.

A long neck is a characteristic feature of almost all sauropod dinosaurs (McIntosh 1990; but see Rauhut et al. 2005). The necks of some sauropods, such as Brachiosaurus, Barosaurus, Diplodocus, and Mamenchisaurus, reach twice or even more the length of the trunk (e.g., Janensch 1950a, 1950b; Bonaparte 1986; McIntosh 1990). Neck posture is a crucial feature for understanding the ecology, physiology, biomechanics, and evolution of sauropods. Yet the neck posture continues to be a highly controversial subject (Figs. 15.1, 15.2). The long neck has been interpreted as either a means for high vertical browsing (e.g., Bakker 1987; Paul 1987, 1988) or for increasing the horizontal feeding range (e.g., Martin 1987). Taking a single species, Brachiosaurus brancai for example, the range of neck postures suggested extends from horizontal (Frey & Martin 1997; Berman & Rothschild 2005; Stevens & Parrish 2005a, 2005b), to forwardly inclined (Janensch 1950b; Christian & Dzemski 2007), to nearly vertical (Bakker 1987; Paul 1987, 1988; Christian & Heinrich 1998; Christian 2002) (Figs. 15.1, 15.2).

 

16. The Life Cycle of Sauropod Dinosaurs

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EVA MARIA GRIEBELER AND JAN WERNER

Because sauropod dinosaurs are extinct, it might seem impossible to fully reconstruct their life cycles. Nevertheless, information on reproduction, reproductive behavior, growth in body size, and sexual maturity can be indirectly derived from the fossil record. In addition, we can also use living, phylogenetically related taxa as models for these extinct animals in order to support and expand our knowledge on sauropod life cycles. Predictions from life history theory on the relationship between reproductive traits and body size as well as the analyses of life cycle characteristics of extant reptiles, birds, and mammals are also appropriate. In the present chapter, we utilize this complex approach for the reconstruction of sauropod life cycles. We summarize the information on eggs, clutches, nests, hatching, adolescence, and growth in body size that has been derived from the fossil record. In addition, we try to fill the gaps in our knowledge concerning the reproductive behavior, the total reproductive output of animals, and the mortality during the life cycle using information from extant phylogenetic brackets or predictions of life history theory. Finally, we discuss hypotheses explaining gigantism of sauropods based on their life cycles.

 

17. Sauropod Bone Histology and its Implications for Sauropod Biology

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P. MARTIN SANDER, NICOLE KLEIN, KOEN STEIN, AND OLIVER WINGS

Bone histology has emerged as the major source of information on life history of dinosaurs, and sauropodomorphs are one of the best-sampled clades. The large long bones (humerus and femur) preserve the most complete growth record, which allows inference on life history, thermometabolism, and other aspects of sauropod biology.

Basal sauropodomorphs have fibrolamellar bone interrupted by regularly spaced growth marks, and termination of growth is recorded in an external fundamental system (EFS). However, in the best-studied basal sauropodomorph, Plateosaurus engelhardti, growth rate deduced from growth mark counts and termination of growth are highly variable (developmental plasticity). Growth series of many taxa of sauropods also show fibrolamellar bone exclusively but differ in that growth marks appear only late in life, or in most taxa only in the EFS. Growth rate and final size are taxon specific, not variable, and genetically predetermined.

 

18. Skeletal Reconstruction of Brachiosaurus brancai in the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin: Summarizing 70 Years of Sauropod Research

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KRISTIAN REMES, DAVID M. UNWIN, NICOLE KLEIN, WOLF-DIETER HEINRICH, AND OLIVER HAMPE

The skeletal reconstruction of Brachiosaurus brancai displayed in the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin, is the largest mounted dinosaur skeleton in the world that incorporates original fossil material. Found during the course of the German Tendaguru expedition from 1909 to 1913, a composite skeleton of B. brancai was first mounted in 1938, and although it was demounted and remounted several times, it remained unchanged until the renovation of the Berlin dinosaur exhibition hall in 2005–2007. Here we describe the scientific progress, technical solutions, and specific decisions that led to the new mount, which has been on display since 2007. The new mount differs in a number of points from the old mount, including improved models of the presacral vertebrae and head, the posture of the neck, the shape of the torso, the orientation of the pectoral girdle and forelimbs, and the posture of the tail. Overall, the Brachiosaurus skeleton now looks livelier, evoking the impression of an active, relatively agile animal and symbolizing developments in our understanding of sauropods since the first mounting of the skeleton.

 

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