Dinosaur head crests and horns linked to sexual selection
Published 14/01/2016 | 00:11
Sexual selection and the function of anatomy in dinosaurs have been linked for the first time by scientists.
Fossils of the protoceratops - a dinosaur the size of a sheep - were analysed by a team from the Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).
By studying large ornamental structures on their bodies such as horns and head crests, the researchers discovered they were absent in juveniles but increased in adults.
As the dinosaurs reached maturity they had "disproportionately" larger frills, according to the report published in the journal Palaeontologia Electronica.
Dr David Hone, lecturer in Zoology from QMUL's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, said: "Palaeontologists have long suspected that many of the strange features we see in dinosaurs were linked to sexual display and social dominance but this is very hard to show.
"The growth pattern we see in protoceratops matches that seen for signalling structures in numerous different living species and forms a coherent pattern from very young animals right through to large adults."
Researchers, who studied 37 specimens, believe because the "frills" suddenly increased as the animals matured, their function was linked to sexual selection. It could have also contributed to dominance in social situations, they said.
Dr Rob Knell, reader in evolutionary ecology, also from QMUL's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, said: "Biologists are increasingly realising that sexual selection is a massively important force in shaping biodiversity both now and in the past.
"Not only does sexual selection account for most of the stranger, prettier and more impressive features that we see in the animal kingdom, it also seems to play a part in determining how new species arise, and there is increasing evidence that it also has effects on extinction rates and on the ways by which animals are able to adapt to changing environments."