Wednesday, 27 February 2013

One gait fits all: Titanosaur dinosaurs match their pace as they grow.


Researchers at the Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont (ICP, Spain), the universities of Zaragoza and Autonomous of Barcelona (Spain) in collaboration with the University of Manchester (UK) and University of Liverpool (UK) have just published in the journal PLOS ONE. Their study of trackways confirms that the titanosaur sauropod dinosaurs that lived in Fumanya (Catalonia, Spain) during the Late Cretaceous walked in the same way, independently of their body size.


Walking just like its giant parent, a sauropod plays 'catch-up' moving just like an adult!
In this study, palaeontologists have compared a small trackway of a titanosaur sauropod from the Late Cretaceous with those corresponding to larger animals in the same tracksite. The comparison of these trackways has helped to establish a cause-effect relationship between the gait (relative placement of feet as a function of limb movement), footprint size and body proportions of these dinosaurs.
Titanosaurs were a group of sauropod dinosaurs that had a characteristic arrangement of the femur and pelvic girdle that is reflected in the trackways that have been preserved in the fossil track record. Their gait was wide and the footprints left yield a characteristic ‘wide-gauge’ trackway. 



Reconstruction of a dinosaur from the Catalan, pre‐Pyrenees, about 70 million years ago. Credit: Oscar Sanisidro. Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont.
In the study published in PLOS ONE, researchers have compared trackways of specimens of different sizes and have demonstrated that they belonged to animals with many geometric similarities in their body plans. The juvenile dinosaur was basically a ‘replica’ of the adult in terms of limb proportions and shape, despite the large differences in body size. This led to the conclusion that the large and small titanosaurs moved in a dynamically similar way, probably using an ambling gait. 


Juvenile Titanosaur trackway from Fumanya, picture by Bernat Vila
Sauropod dinosaurs form the group of the largest terrestrial vertebrates that ever lived on land. They were herbivorous animals with a long tail and neck that allowed them to reach higher vegetation. The titanosaurs that lived in Fumanya in Berguedà (Catalonia, Spain), could reach up to 15 meters in length and weigh up to 15 tons, but the track of the new juvenile sauropod was roughly the same body trunk size of a large Labrador dog…a mere ~1.5 metres from hip to shoulders…some 10 times smaller than an adult of the same species.

Fumanya, a unique dinosaur site
The Fumanya sites of Fígols and Vallcebre, were declared a Site of National Cultural Interest in 2005. The paleontological site includes the ancient open-cast coal mines in Fumanya Sud, Mina Esquirol, Fumanya Nord and Tumí. On the site, which covers an area of more than 38,000 square meters, more than 3000 dinosaur footprints have been have been found and fossil remains of eggs and bones have been identified, together with tree trunks and leaves from different types of palms. It is considered to be one of the most important sites in Europe for fossil remains of dinosaurs from the Late Cretaceous.


From left to right, Manning, Vila, Egerton and Galobart collect LiDAR data on juvenile
trackway using a Z+F LiDAR unit.
Sauropod dinosaurs form the group of the largest terrestrial vertebrates that ever lived on land. They were herbivorous animals with a long tail and neck that allowed them to reach higher vegetation. The titanosaurs that lived in Fumanya in Berguedà (Catalonia, Spain), could reach up to 15 meters in length and weigh up to 15 tons, but the track of the new juvenile sauropod was roughly the same body trunk size of a large Labrador dog…a mere ~1.5 metres from hip to shoulders…some 10 times smaller than an adult of the same species.
Fumanya, a unique dinosaur site

Titanosaur trackways from Fumanya: LiDAR helps lift the detail.... see paper in PLoS One!

Fumanya, a unique dinosaur site
The Fumanya sites of Fígols and Vallcebre, is for me one of the best examples of Titanosaur trakway surface in the whole of Europe, if not the world. The paleontological site includes the ancient open-cast coal mines in Fumanya Sud, Mina Esquirol, Fumanya Nord and Tumí which were the reason behind in the discovery of the track-bearing horizons by a local school teacher. When you have over 38,000 square meters of exposure and more than 3000 dinosaur tracks...LiDAR is the only way to record, measure and analyse such a vast site. The Manchester team has been working with the ICP team on this site for nearly seven years now and we all know there are many more tracks and trails to be teased from this ancient surface using the light fantastic of LiDAR!

Bernat Vila, Oriol Oms, Àngel Galobart, Karl T. Bates, Victoria M. Egerton and Phillip L. Manning. "Dynamic similarity in Titanosaur sauropods: evidence from the Fumanya ichnological tracksite dinosaur (Southern Pyrenees)." PLOS ONE http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0057408 

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