Embryology of Early Jurassic dinosaur from China with evidence of preserved organic remains

Robert R. Reisz, Timothy D. Huang, Eric M. Roberts, Shinrung Peng, Corwin Sullivan, Koen Stein, Aaron R.H. Leblanc, Darbin Shieh, Rongseng Chang, Chengcheng Chiang, Chuanwei Yang, Shiming Zhong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Fossil dinosaur embryos are surprisingly rare, being almost entirely restricted to Upper Cretaceous strata that record the late stages of non-avian dinosaur evolution. Notable exceptions are the oldest known embryos from the Early Jurassic South African sauropodomorph Massospondylus and Late Jurassic embryos of a theropod from Portugal. The fact that dinosaur embryos are rare and typically enclosed in eggshells limits their availability for tissue and cellular level investigations of development. Consequently, little is known about growth patterns in dinosaur embryos, even though post-hatching ontogeny has been studied in several taxa. Here we report the discovery of an embryonic dinosaur bone bed from the Lower Jurassic of China, the oldest such occurrence in the fossil record. The embryos are similar in geological age to those of Massospondylus and are also assignable to a sauropodomorph dinosaur, probably Lufengosaurus. The preservation of numerous disarticulated skeletal elements and eggshells in this monotaxic bone bed, representing different stages of incubation and therefore derived from different nests, provides opportunities for new investigations of dinosaur embryology in a clade noted for gigantism. For example, comparisons among embryonic femora of different sizes and developmental stages reveal a consistently rapid rate of growth throughout development, possibly indicating that short incubation times were characteristic of sauropodomorphs. In addition, asymmetric radial growth of the femoral shaft and rapid expansion of the fourth trochanter suggest that embryonic muscle activation played an important role in the pre-hatching ontogeny of these dinosaurs. This discovery also provides the oldest evidence of in situ preservation of complex organic remains in a terrestrial vertebrate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)210-214
Number of pages5
JournalNature
Volume496
Issue number7444
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013 Apr 11

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General

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