Quantifying the effect of intervertebral cartilage on neutral posture in the necks of sauropod dinosaurs

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Abstract

Attempts to reconstruct the neutral neck posture of sauropod dinosaurs, or indeed any tetrapod, are doomed to failure when based only on the geometry of the bony cervical vertebrae. The thickness of the articular cartilage between the centra of adjacent vertebrae affects posture. It extends (raises) the neck by an amount roughly proportional to the thickness of the cartilage. It is possible to quantify the angle of extension at an intervertebral joint: it is roughly equal, in radians, to the cartilage thickness divided by the height of the zygapophyseal facets over the centre of rotation. Applying this formula to published measurements of well-known sauropod specimens suggests that if the thickness of cartilage were equal to 4.5%, 10% or 18% of centrum length, the neutral pose of the Apatosaurus louisae holotype CM 3018 would be extended by an average of 5.5, 11.8 or 21.2 degrees, respectively, at each intervertebral joint. For the Diplodocus carnegii holotype CM 84, the corresponding angles of additional extension are even greater: 8.4, 18.6 or 33.3 degrees. The cartilaginous neutral postures (CNPs) calculated for 10% cartilage—the most reasonable estimate—appear outlandish. But it must be remembered that these would not have been the habitual life postures, because tetrapods habitually extend the base of their neck and flex the anterior part, yielding the distinctive S-curve most easily seen in birds.
Original languageEnglish
Article number712
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalPeerJ
Volume2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 23 Dec 2014

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