Cranial ontogeny in Stegoceras validum (dinosauria: Pachycephalosauria): A quantitative model of pachycephalosaur dome growth and variation

Ryan K. Schott, David C. Evans, Mark B. Goodwin, John R. Horner, Caleb Marshall Brown, Nicholas R. Longrich

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39 Citations (SciVal)


Historically, studies of pachycephalosaurs have recognized plesiomorphically flat-headed taxa and apomorphically domed taxa. More recently, it has been suggested that the expression of the frontoparietal dome is ontogenetic and derived from a flat-headed juvenile morphology. However, strong evidence to support this hypothesis has been lacking. Here we test this hypothesis in a large, stratigraphically constrained sample of specimens assigned to Stegoceras validum, the best known pachycephalosaur, using multiple independent lines of evidence including conserved morphology of ornamentation, landmark-based allometric analyses of frontoparietal shape, and cranial bone histology. New specimens show that the diagnostic ornamentation of the parietosquamosal bar is conserved throughout the size range of the sample, which links flat-headed specimens to domed S. validum. High-resolution CT scans of three frontoparietals reveal that vascularity decreases with size and document a pattern that is consistent with previously proposed histological changes during growth. Furthermore, aspects of dome shape and size are strongly correlated and indicative of ontogenetic growth. These results are complementary and strongly support the hypothesis that the sample represents a growth series of a single taxon. Cranial dome growth is positively allometric, proceeds from a flat-headed to a domed state, and confirms the synonymy of Ornatotholus browni as a juvenile Stegoceras. This dataset serves as the first detailed model of growth and variation in a pachycephalosaur. Flat-headed juveniles possess three characters (externally open cranial sutures, tuberculate dorsal surface texture, and open supratemporal fenestrae) that are reduced or eliminated during ontogeny. These characters also occur in putative flat-headed taxa, suggesting that they may also represent juveniles of domed taxa. However, open cranial sutures and supratemporal fenestrae are plesiomorphic within Ornithischia, and thus should be expected in the adult stage of a primitive pachycephalosaur. Additional lines of evidence will be needed to resolve the taxonomic validity of flat-headed pachycephalosaur taxa.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere21092
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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