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Keywords:

  • bipedalism;
  • Lesothosaurus;
  • locomotion;
  • modelling;
  • moment arms

Abstract

Ornithischia (the ‘bird-hipped’ dinosaurs) encompasses bipedal, facultative quadrupedal and quadrupedal taxa. Primitive ornithischians were small bipeds, but large body size and obligate quadrupedality evolved independently in all major ornithischian lineages. Numerous pelvic and hind limb features distinguish ornithischians from the majority of other non-avian dinosaurs. However, some of these features, notably a retroverted pubis and elongate iliac preacetabular process, appeared convergently in maniraptoran theropods, and were inherited by their avian descendants. During maniraptoran/avian evolution these pelvic modifications led to significant changes in the functions of associated muscles, involving alterations to the moment arms and the activation patterns of pelvic musculature. However, the functions of these features in ornithischians and their influence on locomotion have not been tested and remain poorly understood. Here, we provide quantitative tests of bipedal ornithischian muscle function using computational modelling to estimate 3D hind limb moment arms for the most complete basal ornithischian, Lesothosaurus diagnosticus. This approach enables sensitivity analyses to be carried out to explore the effects of uncertainties in muscle reconstructions of extinct taxa, and allows direct comparisons to be made with similarly constructed models of other bipedal dinosaurs. This analysis supports some previously proposed qualitative inferences of muscle function in basal ornithischians. However, more importantly, this work highlights ambiguities in the roles of certain muscles, notably those inserting close to the hip joint. Comparative analysis reveals that moment arm polarities and magnitudes in Lesothosaurus, basal tetanuran theropods and the extant ostrich are generally similar. However, several key differences are identified, most significantly in comparisons between the moment arms of muscles associated with convergent osteological features in ornithischians and birds. Craniad migration of the iliofemoralis group muscles in birds correlates with increased leverage and use of medial femoral rotation to counter stance phase adduction moments at the hip. In Lesothosaurus the iliofemoralis group maintains significantly higher moment arms for abduction, consistent with the hip abduction mode of lateral limb support hypothesized for basal dinosaurs. Sensitivity analysis highlights ambiguity in the role of musculature associated with the retroverted pubis (puboischiofemoralis externus group) in ornithischians. However, it seems likely that this musculature may have predominantly functioned similarly to homologous muscles in extant birds, activating during the swing phase to adduct the lower limb through lateral rotation of the femur. Overall the results suggest that locomotor muscle leverage in Lesothosaurus (and by inference basal ornithischians in general) was more similar to that of other non-avian dinosaurs than the ostrich, representing what was probably the basal dinosaur condition. This work thereby contradicts previous hypotheses of ornithischian–bird functional convergence.