Does mutual sexual selection explain the evolution of head crests in pterosaurs and dinosaurs?





David W. E. Hone [, School of Biology and Environmental Sciences, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland; Darren Naish [], Palaeobiology Research Group, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Portsmouth, Burnaby Road, Portsmouth PO1 3QL, UK; Innes C. Cuthill [], School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol, Woodland Road, Bristol BS8 1UG, UK; manuscript received on 14/04/2011; manuscript accepted on 25/09/2011.


Hone, D.W.E., Naish, D. & Cuthill, I.C. 2011: Does mutual sexual selection explain the evolution of head crests in pterosaurs and dinosaurs? Lethaia, Vol. 45, pp. 139–156.

Cranial ornamentation is widespread throughout the extinct non-avialian Ornithodira, being present throughout Pterosauria, Ornithischia and Saurischia. Ornaments take many forms, and can be composed of at least a dozen different skull bones, indicating multiple origins. Many of these crests serve no clear survival function and it has been suggested that their primary use was for species recognition or sexual display. The distribution within Ornithodira and the form and position of these crests suggest sexual selection as a key factor, although the role of the latter has often been rejected on the grounds of an apparent lack of sexual dimorphism in many species. Surprisingly, the phenomenon of mutual sexual selection – where both males and females are ornamented and both select mates – has been ignored in research on fossil ornithodirans, despite a rich history of research and frequent expression in modern birds. Here, we review the available evidence for the functions of ornithodiran cranial crests and conclude that mutual sexual selection presents a valid hypothesis for their presence and distribution. The integration of mutual sexual selection into future studies is critical to our understanding of ornithodiran ecology, evolution and particularly questions regarding sexual dimorphism. □Behaviour, Dinosauria, ornaments, Pterosauria, sexual selection.