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Bone histology indicates insular dwarfism in a new Late Jurassic sauropod dinosaur

Abstract

Sauropod dinosaurs were the largest animals ever to inhabit the land, with truly gigantic forms in at least three lineages1,2,3. Small species with an adult body mass less than five tonnes are very rare4,5, and small sauropod bones generally represent juveniles. Here we describe a new diminutive species of basal macronarian sauropod, Europasaurus holgeri gen. et sp. nov., and on the basis of bone histology we show it to have been a dwarf species. The fossils, including excellent skull material, come from Kimmeridgian marine beds of northern Germany6,7, and record more than 11 individuals of sauropods 1.7 to 6.2 m in total body length. Morphological overlap between partial skeletons and isolated bones links all material to the same new taxon. Cortical histology of femora and tibiae indicates that size differences within the specimens are due to different ontogenetic stages, from juveniles to fully grown individuals. The little dinosaurs must have lived on one of the large islands around the Lower Saxony basin8. Comparison with the long-bone histology of large-bodied sauropods suggests that the island dwarf species evolved through a decrease in growth rate from its larger ancestor.

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Figure 1: Europasaurus holgeri gen. et sp. nov.
Figure 2: Histological growth series and sampled bones of Europasaurus holgeri gen. et sp. nov.

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Acknowledgements

We thank O. Dülfer, W. Fink, D. Flemming, W. Fricke, A. Hänel, O. Heumann, D. Kranz, M. Lorsch, M. Mastroianni, R. Nimser, G. Oleschinski, U. Resch, D. Rössler, H.-J. Siber, S. Thiele, D. Unwin, F. Wesling, J. Wilson and R. Windolf. We especially appreciate the support of J. McIntosh, F. von Pupka, B. Wolter and H. Lüdtke. This research was supported by the Jurassic Foundation, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and the Portuguese “Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia”. This paper is contribution number 9 of the DFG Research Unit 533 “Biology of the Sauropod Dinosaurs: The Evolution of Gigantism”. Author Contributions P.M.S. was responsible for the bone histology work presented as part of this study. The morphology, systematics and taphonomy of the new sauropod was studied by the remaining authors, who are to be considered the sole authors of the name Europasaurus holgeri gen. et sp. nov.

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Correspondence to P. Martin Sander or Octávio Mateus.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Notes

This file contains information on the geology and taphonomy of the Langenberg quarry locality, details of the phylogenetic analysis including the data matrix, an extended diagnosis of Europasaurus holgeri gen. et sp. nov., information on body length (BL) estimates for Europasaurus and on methods of histologic study of Europasaurus long bones. This file also contains four figures. Supplementary Figure 1 provides a palaeogeographic map of Central Europe during the Kimmeridgian. Supplementary Figure 2 illustrates the various parts of the skeleton, including autapomorphic features. Supplementary Figures 3 illustrates the premaxilla bearing the cranial autapomorphy of Europasaurus. Supplementary Figure 4 illustrates the results of the phylogenetic analysis in a cladogram. (DOC 2708 kb)

*The legend to Supplementary Fig. 2 has been modified on 7 July 2006 by addition of ref. 14 to give due credit for the reconstruction of Brachiosaurus.

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Martin Sander, P., Mateus, O., Laven, T. et al. Bone histology indicates insular dwarfism in a new Late Jurassic sauropod dinosaur. Nature 441, 739–741 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature04633

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