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Dinosaurs' First Demonstration Of Sexual Selection Identified

First Posted: Jan 14, 2016 11:48 AM EST

Scientists are shedding new light on sexual selection among dinosaurs, specifically Protoceratops. In this latest study, researchers at the Queen Mary University of London examined massive ornamental structures in dinosaurs, such as horns and head crests, which were likely used among dinosaurs in sexual display and to acquire social dominance. The researchers' study is one of the first to connect anatomy to sexual selection among dinosaurs.

"Palaeontologists have long suspected that many of the strange features we see in dinosaurs were linked to sexual display and social dominance but this is very hard to show," Dr. David Hone, coauthor of the study, said in a news release. "The growth pattern we see in Protoceratops matches that seen for signalling structures in numerous different living species and forms a coherent pattern from very young animals right through to large adults."

Protoceratops was a dinosaur species that had a large bony frill on its head, which extended over their neck. In previous studies, researchers have examined the aged fossils of babies and adults, where they found that frills were disproportionately larger in some Protoceratops than in others. The researchers examined 37 Protoceratops fossil specimens from the Djadochta Formation in the Gobi desert.

While conducting their research, they found that frill was missing in juveniles and increased in size when the animal reached maturity, which indicates that the frill's function was linked to sexual selection. The researchers believe that frill was most likely used to attract the perfect mate by displaying their attributes and securing dominant social positions. As a dinosaur became older, its frill grew in shape and size, and became wider.

"Biologists are increasingly realizing that sexual selection is a massively important force in shaping biodiversity both now and in the past," said Dr. Rob Knell from QMUL's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences. "It also seems to play a part in determining how new species arise, and there is increasing evidence that it also has effects on extinction rates and on the ways by which animals are able to adapt to changing environments."

The findings of this study were published in the journal Palaeontologia Electronica.

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