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PLoS One. 2013;8(3):e58517. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0058517. Epub 2013 Mar 13.

Turning semicircular canal function on its head: dinosaurs and a novel vestibular analysis.

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Department of Anatomy, Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine, Midwestern University, Glendale, Arizona, United States of America.


Previous investigations have correlated vestibular function to locomotion in vertebrates by scaling semicircular duct radius of curvature to body mass. However, this method fails to discriminate bipedal from quadrupedal non-avian dinosaurs. Because they exhibit a broad range of relative head sizes, we use dinosaurs to test the hypothesis that semicircular ducts scale more closely with head size. Comparing the area enclosed by each semicircular canal to estimated body mass and to two different measures of head size, skull length and estimated head mass, reveals significant patterns that corroborate a connection between physical parameters of the head and semicircular canal morphology. Head mass more strongly correlates with anterior semicircular canal size than does body mass and statistically separates bipedal from quadrupedal taxa, with bipeds exhibiting relatively larger canals. This morphologic dichotomy likely reflects adaptations of the vestibular system to stability demands associated with terrestrial locomotion on two, versus four, feet. This new method has implications for reinterpreting previous studies and informing future studies on the connection between locomotion type and vestibular function.

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