Biology of the Sauropod Dinosaurs: Understanding the Life of Giants

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

11
Walking with the Shoulder of Giants: Biomechanical Conditions
in the Tetrapod Shoulder Girdle as a Basis for
Sauropod Shoulder Reconstruction

BIANCA HOHN

MOST EXTANT STUDIES of dinosaur locomotor systems
have concentrated on the hindlimbs and pelvic girdle.
As a result, the functional morphology of the shoulder
girdle and forelimbs is poorly understood. In this chap-
ter, the biomechanics of the tetrapod shoulder girdle
are investigated to provide a basis for understanding
locomotion in sauropod dinosaurs. For this purpose,
the finite element method is used in two different
approaches. First, the basic static conditions of force
transmission between the trunk and shoulder girdle in
tetrapods are analyzed by means of rather simple finite
element models. Second, a 3D finite element structure
synthesis (FESS) of the scapulocoracoid in an extant croc-
odile was conducted. Because FESS is mainly based on
Wolff’s law and Pauwels’s causal morphogenesis, both of
which predict the relation between form and function in
bones, this study examines the conditions at the shoul-
der girdle of a crocodilian (Caiman crocodylus) by syn-
thesizing the scapulocoracoid. In doing so, the muscles
that are necessary to keep the shoulder joints in equi-
librium under static conditions were determined. Finally,
a plausible reconstruction of the shoulder girdle in a sau-
ropod dinosaur (Diplodocus longus) is presented. The
reconstruction modeled on these results is discussed in
detail, especially in view of their biomechanical implica-
tions for the statics of the shoulder girdle.


Introduction

Sauropod dinosaurs were the largest animals that ever walked on earth. The upper limit for body size in sauropod dinosaurs, based on rather conservative estimations, is currently assumed to be between 50 and 80 metric tons (Alexander 1998; Sander et al. 2010). In contrast, the maximum body size in theropod dinosaurs is between 7 and 14 metric tons (Anderson et al. 1985; Alexander 1989; Farlow et al. 1995; Therrien & Henderson 2007). The lighter weights of the theropods can be explained by their bipedal locomotion, by which their entire body weight is supported exclusively by the two hindlimbs (Therrien & Henderson 2007), and by the limitation of available food, which in fact holds true for all carnivores (Burness et al. 2001).

Most investigations concerning body size in sauropod dinosaurs refer to ecological and/or physiological determinants as the most influential factors (Janis & Carrano 1992; Farlow 1993; Farlow et al. 1995; Burness et al. 2001; Sander et al. 2010). In addition to these aspects, my approach considers the locomotion as it directly influences the life of each animal, that is, in regard to foraging or avoiding predators. Different types of locomotion require different functional adaptations of the musculoskeletal system to fulfill specific mechanical requirements using a minimum amount of energy. There is a direct correlation between the posture of the limbs, their bio-

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