Biology of the Sauropod Dinosaurs: Understanding the Life of Giants

By Nicole Klein; Kristian Remes et al. | Go to book overview

7
Body Mass Estimation, Thermoregulation, and
Cardiovascular Physiology of Large Sauropods

BERGITA GANSE, ALEXANDER STAHN, STEFAN STOINSKI, TIM SUTHAU, AND HANNS-CHRISTIAN GUNGA

THIS CHAPTER PROVIDES AN OVERVIEW on thermoregula-
tion and the cardiovascular physiology of sauropods on
the basis of data obtained by laser scanning and surface
modeling of the basal sauropodomorph Plateosaurus
engelhardti
and the basal macronarian sauropod Brachio-
saurus brancai
. Nonuniform rational B splines (NURBS)
were used to obtain volume estimates of the thoracic cav-
ity, and these estimates correspond well with vital organ
masses as determined by allometric modeling. To reach
body masses of about 50 metric tons, large sauropods
might have had, at least partly during their life span, a
high resting metabolic rate, and they might have been
endothermic homeotherms to maintain thermoregula-
tive control. Assuming a lack of sweat glands in sauro-
pods, heat balance was likely to be regulated by processes
of radiation, convection, and conduction. Heat transfer
from the body surface via convection, especially during
exercise (hyperthermia), was probably limited, and large
bird-like air sacs as part of the lung structures might have
served as “thermal windows” to help regulate the tem-
perature. A four-chambered heart would have generated
lower pressures in the pulmonary circulation and higher
pressures in the systematic regulation. Additional phys-
iological mechanisms such as high oxygen transport
capacity, muscular venous pumps, tight skin layers, thick
vessel walls, strong connective tissue, precapillary vaso-
constriction, low permeability of capillaries to plasma
proteins, and digital cushions in the feet were necessary to
meet cardiovascular requirements by supporting fluid
volume regulation and preventing edema in large sauro-
pods. Thus, in regard to cardiovascular and thermoregu-
lative control, sauropods were highly specialized animals.


Introduction

What were the average body masses and sizes of the sauropod dinosaurs? How did their hearts work, and how big were they? How did they regulate their body temperature? Were they endothermic or ectothermic?

These sorts of questions are asked by paleobiologists and physiologists working on biology of the largest terrestrial animals ever (Sander et al. 2010). Of particular interest are the issues of body mass, growth rates, thermoregulation, and cardiovascular constraints, and this chapter reviews the current knowledge in these areas of research in regard to sauropod biology. We begin with gigantism, body mass, and body mass estimations, and why these estimations are important for the reconstruction of extinct organisms. Specific examples for whole-body and segmental data obtained from Plateosaurus engelhardti and Brachiosaurus brancai are provided as a basis for a discussion on dinosaur physiology. General concepts of thermophysiology such as modes of thermoregulation are briefly described, then discussed in regard to aspects of heat production, heat dissipation, and metabolic rate in dinosaurs in gen

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