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The fast and the frugal: Divergent locomotory strategies drive limb lengthening in theropod dinosaurs

By T. Alexander Dececchi, Aleksandra M. Mloszewska, Thomas R. Holtz, Michael B. Habib, Hans C.E. Larsson

Posted 27 Sep 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/785238 (published DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0223698)

Limb length, cursoriality and speed have long been areas of significant interest in theropod paleobiology as locomotory capacity, especially running ability, is critical in not just in prey pursuit but also to avoid become prey oneself. One aspect that is traditionally overlooked is the impact of allometry on running ability and the limiting effect of large body size. Since several different non-avian theropod lineages have each independently evolved body sizes greater than any known terrestrial carnivorous mammal, ~1000kg or more, the effect that such larger mass has on movement ability and energetics is an area with significant implications for Mesozoic paleoecology. Here using expansive datasets, incorporating several different metrics to estimate body size, limb length and running speed,  to calculate the effects of  allometry  running We test both on traditional metrics used to evaluate cursoriality in non-avian theropods such as distal limb length, relative hindlimb length as well as comparing the energetic cost savings of relative hindlimb elongation between members of the Tyrannosauridae and more basal megacarnivores such as Allosauroids or Ceratosauridae.  We find that once the limiting effects of body size increase is incorporated, no commonly used metric including the newly suggested distal limb index (Tibia + Metatarsus/ Femur length) shows a significant correlation to top speed. The data also shows a significant split between large and small bodied theropods in terms of maximizing running potential suggesting two distinct strategies for promoting limb elongation based on the organisms’ size. For small and medium sized theropods increased leg length seems to correlate with a desire to increase top speed while amongst larger taxa it corresponds more closely to energetic efficiency and reducing foraging costs.  We also find, using 3D volumetric mass estimates, that the Tyrannosauridae show significant cost of transport savings compared to more basal clades, indicating reduced energy expenditures during foraging and likely reduced need for hunting forays. This suggests that amongst theropods while no one strategy dictated hindlimb evolution. Amongst smaller bodied taxa the competing pressures of being both a predator and a prey item dominant while larger ones, freed from predation pressure, seek to maximize foraging ability. We also discuss the implications both for interactions amongst specific clades and Mesozoic paleobiology and paleoecological reconstructions as a whole

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