Biology of the Sauropod Dinosaurs: Understanding the Life of Giants (Life of the Past)

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Biology of the Sauropod Dinosaurs: Understanding the Life of Giants (Life of the Past) Dinosaurs
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"Provide[s] much new information on the biology of sauropod dinosaurs; information extrapolated from studies of extant animals and from unique, new methodologies for examining fossil material."---Virginia Tidwell, Denver Museum of Nature and Science

Sauropods, those lumbering plant-eating dinosaurs, possessed bodies that seem to defy every natural law. What were these creatures like as living animals and how could they reach such an enormous size? Working groups in Germany and Switzerland representing disciplines ranging from engineering and materials science to animal nutrition and paleontology went in search of the answers to these questions. Biology of the Sauropod Dinosaurs reports on the current state of the groups' research. Covering nutrition, physiology, skeletal structure and body plans, and growth, this volume provides the most up-to-date knowledge about the biology of these giant dinosaurs.

The largest land-living animals ever, sauropod dinosaurs weighed in at more than to tons and sometimes even over 50 tons. They were an order of magnitude larger than the largest land mammals and ornithischian dinosaurs. Sauropods also were longer lived than any other major herbivore group and dominated terrestrial ecosystems for 110 million years, from the Middle Jurassic to the end of the Cretaceous. Recognizing that the key to sauropod gigantism must lie in their biology, a group of scientists with highly diverse backgrounds founded a joint research project, DFG Research Unit 533 "Biology of the Sauropod Dinosaurs: The Evolution of Gigantism." Their findings are presented in the 18 chapters of this volume edited by four paleontologists at the University of Bonn in Germany.

The book opens with a synthesis of the sauropods and their gigantism, followed by three chapters on the plant and animal factors involved in sauropod nutritional biology. The next four chapters on metabolism and growth demonstrate that sauropods must have had an avian-style respiratory system and high growth rates, which were probably fueled by a high metabolic rate. Sauropod biomechanics are treated extensively in the next eight chapters, showing that the sauropod body was a large and extremely lightweight construction adapted to the energy-efficient harvesting of plant food and to providing protection from predation by its sheer size. Information on sauropod growth, life cycles, and reproductive biology is provided in two chapters on bone microstructure and egg occurrences. The combination of efficient food uptake, high growth rates fueled by high metabolic rates, an avian-style respiratory system, and many small offspring emerges as the explanation for the exceptional body size of sauropod dinosaurs. These findings impact many other groups of fossil and recent vertebrates but also the meaning of body size in general.

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