DÍAZ MARTÍNEZ Ignacio
Differential locomotor and predatory strategies of Gondwanan and derived Laurasian dromaeosaurids (Dinosauria, Theropoda, Paraves): Inferences from morphometric and comparative anatomical studies
GIANECHINI, FEDERICO A.; ERCOLI, MARCOS D.; DÍAZ-MARTÍNEZ, IGNACIO
JOURNAL OF ANATOMY
WILEY-BLACKWELL PUBLISHING, INC
Tetrapod limbs morphology is a reliable proxy of locomotor capacities. Beyond this, other aspects of life habits, such as predation abilities, can also be relevant to determine main morphofunctional appendicular properties, which ultimately reflect a compromise between different factors of the biological role. Dromaeosauridae is a dinosaur clade belonging to Theropoda, a group of bipedal predators. Dromaeosaurids represent an interesting study case, in which the hindlimbs have been proposed to be involved in both locomotion and predation activity. A peculiar feature characterizing all dromaeosaurids is a modified second pedal digit, which is typically related to predation. This theropod group is closely related to birds and diversified during the Cretaceous Period, mainly in the Northern Hemisphere (Laurasia). However, a subclade of dromaeosaurids, the Unenlagiinae, was recently recognized for Gondwana. Nevertheless, there are morphological differences between derived Laurasian dromaeosaurids (eudromaeosaurs) and unenlagiines. Such differences are observed in the proportions between hindlimb bones and in the presence of a subarctometatarsalian condition in unenlagiines, which is mainly characterized by a proximally constricted metatarsal III. To evaluate the function of these divergent morphologies, we conducted morphometric analyses and comparisons of qualitative morphological aspects, encompassing unenlagiines, other dromaeosaurids, as well as taxa from other theropod groups, including extant birds. The former approach consisted of two phylogenetic principal component analyses, one based on the main measurements of the hindlimb, and the other focused on the lengths of the pedal phalanges. The first analysis drew the unenlagiines close to taxa with long tibiae, as well as long and slender metatarsi. Instead, eudromaeosaurs are closer to taxa with shorter tibiae, and shorter and wider metatarsi. The second analysis showed that eudromaeosaurs and unenlagiines have similar phalangeal proportions, including the elongation of distal phalanges. However, the shorter second phalanx of the pedal digit II of eudromaeosaurs could have increased the force generated by this digit, which was the main predatory tool of the autopodium. This, together with a shorter and wider metatarsus, and a marked hinge-like morphology of the articular surfaces of metatarsals and phalanges, possibly allowed eudromaeosaurs to exert a great gripping strength and hunt large prey. Conversely, the longer and slender subarctometatarsus, and less well-marked hinge joints of unenlagiines possibly gave them greater cursorial capacities. Additionally, the longer second phalanx of digit II allowed unenlagiines fast movements of this digit to hunt smaller and elusive prey. Thus, the distinctive morphological evolutionary pathways of these two dromaeosaurid clades seem to have been influenced by the particular locomotor and predatory specializations that characterized each of these lineages.