Field of Science

Just In Case You Missed This One

This came out about three weeks ago in PLoS ONE. Pretty cool study showing how different types of dinosaurs would negotiate a particularily difficult terrain.

Wilson, J. A., Marsicano, C. A., and R. M. H. Smith. 2009. Dynamic Locomotor Capabilities Revealed by Early Dinosaur Trackmakers from Southern Africa. PLoS ONE 4(10): e7331. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0007331.

ABSTRACT

Background

A new investigation of the sedimentology and ichnology of the Early Jurassic Moyeni tracksite in Lesotho, southern Africa has yielded new insights into the behavior and locomotor dynamics of early dinosaurs.

Methodology/Principal Findings

The tracksite is an ancient point bar preserving a heterogeneous substrate of varied consistency and inclination that includes a ripple-marked riverbed, a bar slope, and a stable algal-matted bar top surface. Several basal ornithischian dinosaurs and a single theropod dinosaur crossed its surface within days or perhaps weeks of one another, but responded to substrate heterogeneity differently. Whereas the theropod trackmaker accommodated sloping and slippery surfaces by gripping the substrate with its pedal claws, the basal ornithischian trackmakers adjusted to the terrain by changing between quadrupedal and bipedal stance, wide and narrow gauge limb support (abduction range = 31°), and plantigrade and digitigrade foot posture.

Conclusions/Significance

The locomotor adjustments coincide with changes in substrate consistency along the trackway and appear to reflect ‘real time’ responses to a complex terrain. It is proposed that these responses foreshadow important locomotor transformations characterizing the later evolution of the two main dinosaur lineages. Ornithischians, which shifted from bipedal to quadrupedal posture at least three times in their evolutionary history, are shown to have been capable of adopting both postures early in their evolutionary history. The substrate-gripping behavior demonstrated by the early theropod, in turn, is consistent with the hypothesized function of pedal claws in bird ancestors.

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