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PLoS One. 2013 Oct 30;8(10):e78572. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0078572. eCollection 2013.

The articulation of sauropod necks: methodology and mythology.

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1
Department of Computer and Information Science, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon, United States of America.

Abstract

Sauropods are often imagined to have held their heads high atop necks that ascended in a sweeping curve that was formed either intrinsically because of the shape of their vertebrae, or behaviorally by lifting the head, or both. Their necks are also popularly depicted in life with poses suggesting avian flexibility. The grounds for such interpretations are examined in terms of vertebral osteology, inferences about missing soft tissues, intervertebral flexibility, and behavior. Osteologically, the pronounced opisthocoely and conformal central and zygapophyseal articular surfaces strongly constrain the reconstruction of the cervical vertebral column. The sauropod cervico-dorsal vertebral column is essentially straight, in contrast to the curvature exhibited in those extant vertebrates that naturally hold their heads above rising necks. Regarding flexibility, extant vertebrates with homologous articular geometries preserve a degree of zygapophyseal overlap at the limits of deflection, a constraint that is further restricted by soft tissues. Sauropod necks, if similarly constrained, were capable of sweeping out large feeding surfaces, yet much less capable of retracting the head to explore the enclosed volume in an avian manner. Behaviorally, modern vertebrates generally assume characteristic neck postures which are close to the intrinsic curvature of the undeflected neck. With the exception of some vertebrates that can retract their heads to balance above their shoulders at rest (e.g., felids, lagomorphs, and some ratites), the undeflected neck generally predicts the default head height at rest and during locomotion.

PMID:
24205266
PMCID:
PMC3812995
DOI:
10.1371/journal.pone.0078572
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
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