Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Brain Structure Provides Key To Unraveling Function Of Bizarre Dinosaur Crests

Date:
October 16, 2008
Source:
Ohio University
Summary:
Paleontologists have long debated the function of the strange, bony crests on the heads of the duck-billed dinosaurs known as lambeosaurs. The structures contain incredibly long, convoluted nasal passages that loop up over the tops of their skulls. Scientists have now used CT-scanning to look inside these mysterious crests and reconstruct the brains and nasal cavities of four different lambeosaur species.

Reconstructions of the skull in a juvenile and sub-adult Corythosaurus created using CT scanning. The nasal cavity is highlighted in green, and the brain appears in purple. The complicated nasal passage within the showy crest functioned as resonating chambers during vocalization. The structure of the inner ear and expanded brain confirms that duck-billed dinosaurs were capable of perhaps sophisticated behavioral communication.
Credit: Courtesy of Witmer & Ridgely, Ohio University.

Paleontologists have long debated the function of the strange, bony crests on the heads of the duck-billed dinosaurs known as lambeosaurs. The structures contain incredibly long, convoluted nasal passages that loop up over the tops of their skulls.

Scientists at the University of Toronto, Ohio University and Montana State University now have used CT-scanning to look inside these mysterious crests and reconstruct the brains and nasal cavities of four different lambeosaur species. At the annual meeting of the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology in Cleveland, Ohio, on Oct. 16, the team will present new study findings that suggest the crests were used for communication.

"The shape of the brain can tell us a lot about what senses were important in a dinosaur's everyday life, and give insight into the function of the crests," said study lead author David Evans, a paleontologist at the Royal Ontario Museum and the University of Toronto.

Some paleontologists have suggested that the crests heightened the sense of smell by increasing the surface area of the sensory tissue. Others have argued that they regulated temperature, and still others have speculated that the crests acted as sound resonators for communication.

"It's difficult to infer the function of structures in an extinct dinosaur when there is so little resemblance to any living animal," said Jack Horner, a member of the team and paleontologist at Montana State University.

By analyzing CT scans, conducted by Lawrence Witmer and Ryan Ridgely of Ohio University's College of Osteopathic Medicine, the scientists were able to circumvent the problems of fossilization.

"Even though the soft tissues are not preserved in the fossils, the shape of the bones that encase the brain and nasal passages are," said Evans. "From there, the anatomy of these missing soft parts is easily interpreted."

The CT scan results revealed a mismatch between the external shape of the crest (which no doubt functioned as a visual display) and the internal shape of the nasal passages in closely related species, suggesting a special function for the nasal cavity. The portion of the brain responsible for the sense of smell was relatively small and primitive, indicating that the crest did not evolve to improve that sense.

Computer models done by other researchers suggest that the crests could have been used to make low, eerie bellowing calls that could have been used in communication, perhaps to call for mates or warn others of predators. The CT scans documented a delicate inner ear that confirms that the dinosaurs could hear the low-frequency calls produced by the crest.

"We were surprised to see just how large the centers of the brain associated with higher cognitive functions were," said Witmer, Chang Professor of Paleontology in Ohio University's College of Osteopathic Medicine. "We suspected that the crested duck-billed dinosaurs used both vocal and visual displays, but now we see that they had the brain power and hearing to pull off these behaviors."

When all the available information is put together, including the digital brain and ear casts, the evolutionary relationships of the species, and the growth pattern of the crest and its high degree of variability in different co-existing species, it supports the idea that the elaborate nasal cavity was likely used to produce sounds for communication. This study demonstrates the power of using an integrated approach combining 3D imaging, growth studies, and phylogenetic sampling to test ideas about the function and evolution of unusual structures in extinct animals.

The research was funded by the National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the National Science Foundation. This study also will be published in part in an upcoming issue of the journal The Anatomical Record.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Ohio University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Ohio University. "Brain Structure Provides Key To Unraveling Function Of Bizarre Dinosaur Crests." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 October 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081016095141.htm>.
Ohio University. (2008, October 16). Brain Structure Provides Key To Unraveling Function Of Bizarre Dinosaur Crests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081016095141.htm
Ohio University. "Brain Structure Provides Key To Unraveling Function Of Bizarre Dinosaur Crests." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081016095141.htm (accessed April 20, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home

Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home

AP (Apr. 18, 2014) Dairy farmers and ethnic groups in Vermont are both benefiting from a unique collaborative effort that's feeding a growing need for fresh and affordable goat meat. (April 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Man Claims He Found Loch Ness Monster With... Apple Maps?

Man Claims He Found Loch Ness Monster With... Apple Maps?

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) Andy Dixon showed the Daily Mail a screenshot of what he believes to be the mythical beast swimming just below the lake's surface. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
First Ever 'Female Penis' Discovered In Animal Kingdom

First Ever 'Female Penis' Discovered In Animal Kingdom

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) Not only are these newly discovered bugs' sex organs reversed, but they also mate for up to 70 hours. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Little Progress Made In Fighting Food Poisoning, CDC Says

Little Progress Made In Fighting Food Poisoning, CDC Says

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) A new report shows rates of two foodborne infections increased in the U.S. in recent years, while salmonella actually dropped 9 percent. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins