Locomotion in ornithischian dinosaurs: an assessment using three-dimensional computational modelling



Ornithischian dinosaurs were primitively bipedal with forelimbs modified for grasping, but quadrupedalism evolved in the clade on at least three occasions independently. Outside of Ornithischia, quadrupedality from bipedal ancestors has only evolved on two other occasions, making this one of the rarest locomotory transitions in tetrapod evolutionary history. The osteological and myological changes associated with these transitions have only recently been documented, and the biomechanical consequences of these changes remain to be examined. Here, we review previous approaches to understanding locomotion in extinct animals, which can be broadly split into form–function approaches using analogy based on extant animals, limb-bone scaling, and computational approaches. We then carry out the first systematic attempt to quantify changes in locomotor muscle function in bipedal and quadrupedal ornithischian dinosaurs. Using three-dimensional computational modelling of the major pelvic locomotor muscle moment arms, we examine similarities and differences among individual taxa, between quadrupedal and bipedal taxa, and among taxa representing the three major ornithischian lineages (Thyreophora, Ornithopoda, Marginocephalia). Our results suggest that the ceratopsid Chasmosaurus and the ornithopod Hypsilophodon have relatively low moment arms for most muscles and most functions, perhaps suggesting poor locomotor performance in these taxa. Quadrupeds have higher abductor moment arms than bipeds, which we suggest is due to the overall wider bodies of the quadrupeds modelled. A peak in extensor moment arms at more extended hip angles and lower medial rotator moment arms in quadrupeds than in bipeds may be due to a more columnar hindlimb and loss of medial rotation as a form of lateral limb support in quadrupeds. We are not able to identify trends in moment arm evolution across Ornithischia as a whole, suggesting that the bipedal ancestry of ornithischians did not constrain the development of quadrupedal locomotion via a limited number of functional pathways. Functional anatomy appears to have had a greater effect on moment arms than phylogeny, and the differences identified between individual taxa and individual clades may relate to differences in locomotor performance required for living in different environments or for clade-specific behaviours.