Ostrich necks reveal sauropod movements, food habits

Aug 14, 2013
ostrich

A new analysis of ostriches reveals that a computer model of long-necked sauropods used to simulate the dinosaurs' movements, featured in BBC's Walking with Dinosaurs and the focus of an installation at the American Museum of Natural History, New York, does not correctly reconstruct how flexible their necks were. The results are published August 14 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Matthew Cobley from the University of Utah, with colleagues from the University of Bristol and Natural History Museum, London.

Previous estimates of sauropod neck flexibility were based on the positions of , but this new research suggests these estimates were probably inaccurate, as the models don't account for the effects of like muscle and cartilage. This analysis of ostriches, close relatives of the long-necked , reveals that increasing muscle mass in the neck reduces the maximum flexibility of their necks. Variations in the distance between vertebral joints and the amount of cartilage present in the neck could also have reduced the flexibility of sauropods' long necks, according to this research.

Museum exhibits and movies often depict sauropods arching their necks into a wide range of movements, all the way from tree-tops to low vegetation. However, the results of this study indicate that these dinosaurs may have been less flexible than typically depicted. Having less flexible necks would have likely restricted the range of foods these dinosaurs could reach, their , and consequently, they may have foraged more actively to meet their average dietary needs of approximately 400 kg of plant matter each day.

Cobley adds, "I believe the most important thing to take away from this study is that computer modeling of any biological system – be it anything from an individual organ to a whole dinosaur - needs to be 'ground-truthed' before it is accepted by the scientific community and presented to the public. It's easy to be swayed by these beautifully reconstructed models of dinosaurs, but if these models aren't based on real, empirical data taken from living animals we can actually study, they only serve to confuse the general public."

Explore further: Grant Museum starts major project to preserve rarest skeleton in the world

More information: Cobley MJ, Rayfield EJ, Barrett PM (2013) Inter-Vertebral Flexibility of the Ostrich Neck: Implications for Estimating Sauropod Neck Flexibility. PLoS ONE 8(8): e72187. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0072187

Related Stories

Did dinosaurs hold their heads up?

May 27, 2009

Some dinosaurs may have held their heads up, like a giraffe, rather than in a more horizontal position, University of Portsmouth scientists report today.

Some sauropods really did hold their long necks high

Jun 03, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new study suggests the long necks of sauropod dinosaurs really were held high, in spite of theories suggesting they were more likely to keep their necks low because of the very high blood ...

Brachiosaurus and other dinosaurs like a vacuum cleaner

Mar 24, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- In a recent study published in Biology Letters, Professor Graeme Ruxton from the University of Glasgow and Dr. David Wilkinson from Liverpool John Moores University use mathematics and a ...

Long-necked dinos didn't reach for the skies

Mar 31, 2009

A fondly-held belief about long-necked sauropods, the giant four-footed dinosaurs beloved of monster movies and children, is most probably untrue, a dino expert said on Wednesday.

Plant-eating dinosaurs replaced teeth often, carried spares

Jul 17, 2013

Some of the largest herbivorous dinosaurs replaced their teeth at a rate of approximately one tooth every 1-2 months to compensate for tooth wear from crunching up plants, according to research published July 17 in the open ...

Recommended for you

Oxford team shed light on ancient Egyptian obelisk

22 hours ago

History was made this month as the robotic Philae lander completed the first controlled touchdown on a comet. The European Space Agency-led project was set up to obtain images of a comet's surface and help ...

Ancient Egyptian codex finally deciphered

Nov 24, 2014

(Phys.org) —A pair of Australian researchers, Malcolm Choat with Macquarie University and Iain Gardner with the University of Sydney, has after many decades of effort by others, succeeded in deciphering ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.