Ontogenetic changes in the body plan of the sauropodomorph dinosaur Mussaurus patagonicus reveal shifts of locomotor stance during growth

Otero, A and Cuff, A R and Allen, V and Sumner-Rooney, L and Pol, D and Hutchinson, J R (2019) Ontogenetic changes in the body plan of the sauropodomorph dinosaur Mussaurus patagonicus reveal shifts of locomotor stance during growth. Scientific Reports (Nature), 9. p. 7614.

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Abstract

Ontogenetic information is crucial to understand life histories and represents a true challenge in dinosaurs due to the scarcity of growth series available. Mussaurus patagonicus was a sauropodomorph dinosaur close to the origin of Sauropoda known from hatchling, juvenile and mature specimens, providing a sufficiently complete ontogenetic series to reconstruct general patterns of ontogeny. Here, in order to quantify how body shape and its relationship with locomotor stance (quadruped/biped) changed in ontogeny, hatchling, juvenile (~1 year old) and adult (8+ years old) individuals were studied using digital models. Our results show that Mussaurus rapidly grew from about 60 g at hatching to ~7 kg at one year old, reaching >1000 kg at adulthood. During this time, the body’s centre of mass moved from a position in the mid-thorax to a more caudal position nearer to the pelvis. We infer that these changes of body shape and centre of mass reflect a shift from quadrupedalism to bipedalism occurred early in ontogeny in Mussaurus. Our study indicates that relative development of the tail and neck was more influential in determining the locomotor stance in Sauropodomorpha during ontogeny, challenging previous studies, which have emphasized the influence of hindlimb vs. forelimb lengths on sauropodomorph stance.