On the left-right asymmetry in dinosaurs

Castanhinha, R., & Mateus O. (2006).  On the left-right asymmetry in dinosaurs. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. 26(Suppl. To 3), 48A.


The study of different kinds of morphological left-right (L-R) asymmetries in all taxa is a very powerful tool to understand evolution since it is a way to measure the developmentalstability of an organism against environmental perturbations. Excluding every pathologic or subtle asymmetry and all cases of taphonomic distortion, this work focuses only on two
kinds of unambiguous asymmetries: fluctuating and adaptative asymmetry. There are several cases of conspicuous left-right asymmetry in dinosaurs and is probably more common than previously thought. The pneumatic cavities systems in skull and vertebrae of theropodsand sauropods are the most common cases reported. The shape (but not the occurrence) of pneumatic cavities might have been exposed to weak selective pressure becoming more random than other body structures. Asymmetries are rarer in the appendicular bones possibly because it represents a strong handicap in the function of the limbs, consequently in the locomotion of the individual. Teeth counting show many exceptions to the typical L-R symmetry. Peculiar cases of adaptive asymmetry are related with the plates of stegosaurs and the ear displacement in the skull of the troodontids, which may have an important role in the physiology and ecology of the animals. The asymmetric displacement maximizes the surface exposure of the stegosaurs dorsal plates. This is an advantage, either the plates were used for thermoregulation, display or specific identification. Work in progress on the braincases of some troodontids specimens shows asymmetric ear openings, which suggests thatcan be an analogy resulting from convergent evolution between troodontids and strigiformes birds, used for 3D directional acoustics. Asymmetries are more common in animals that develop under stress. Animals that lived under dramatic environmental changes periods—like mass-extinctions episodes are believed to be—should present more asymmetries.
However, much more sampling and time accuracy is required in order to be able to relate dinosaur asymmetries to extinction episodes. Asymmetries show strong intra-individual variation and should be taken in consideration in taxonomical studies.

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