Fossil brain teaser! A new analysis of differently-aged brain fossils from the same species of dinosaur has revealed new insights into how the organ developed in the 150-million-year old creatures.
A new study conducted at the University of Bristol sheds light on how the brain and inner ear developed in dinosaurs.
The two palaeontologists studied different fossils of the Jurassic dinosaur Dysalotosaurus lettowvorbecki: a very young individual of approximately three years of age and a fully grown specimen of more than 12 years of age.
"The two different growth stages of Dysalotosaurus provided a unique opportunity to study their brain, and how it developed during the growth of the animal," Stephan Lautenschlager, lead author of the study, from Bristol's School of Earth Sciences, said.
Using high-resolution CT scanning and 3D computer imaging, it was possible to reconstruct and visualise the brain and inner ear of Dysalotosaurus lettowvorbecki - a small, plant-eating dinosaur, which lived 150 million years ago, in what is now Tanzania.
"Well-preserved fossil material, which can be used to reconstruct the brain anatomy is usually rare. Thus, we were fortunate to have different growth stages available for our study," co-author Tom Hubner from the Niedersachsische Landes museum in Hannover, Germany, said.
By looking at the brain and inner ear anatomy, the two researchers found that the brain of Dysalotosaurus underwent considerable changes during growth – most likely as a response to environmental and metabolic requirements.
However, important parts responsible for the sense of hearing and cognitive processes were already well developed in the young individual.
"Our study shows that the brain was already well-developed in the young dinosaurs and adapted perfectly to interact with their environment and other individuals," Lautenschlager said.
This study has important ramifications for the understanding of how parts of the brain developed in dinosaurs, researchers said.
The study was published in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology.