Evidence for mesothermy in dinosaurs

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Science  13 Jun 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6189, pp. 1268-1272
DOI: 10.1126/science.1253143

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Not too fast, not too slow, somewhere in between

In early depictions, dinosaurs lumbered slowly, dragging their tails. More recently, we have imagined them lifting their tails and running. The question boils down to whether dinosaurs had energetic systems closer to those of rapidly metabolizing mammals and birds, or to those of slower reptiles that do not internally regulate their body temperature. However, determining the metabolic rate of extinct organisms is no easy task. Grady et al. analyzed a huge data set on growth rate in both extinct and living species, using a method that considers body temperature and body size. Dinosaur metabolism seems to have been neither fast nor slow, but somewhere in the middle—so, dinosaurs did not fully regulate their internal temperature but they were also not entirely at the whim of the environment; neither slow goliaths nor supercharged reptiles.

Science, this issue p. 1268


Were dinosaurs ectotherms or fast-metabolizing endotherms whose activities were unconstrained by temperature? To date, some of the strongest evidence for endothermy comes from the rapid growth rates derived from the analysis of fossil bones. However, these studies are constrained by a lack of comparative data and an appropriate energetic framework. Here we compile data on ontogenetic growth for extant and fossil vertebrates, including all major dinosaur clades. Using a metabolic scaling approach, we find that growth and metabolic rates follow theoretical predictions across clades, although some groups deviate. Moreover, when the effects of size and temperature are considered, dinosaur metabolic rates were intermediate to those of endotherms and ectotherms and closest to those of extant mesotherms. Our results suggest that the modern dichotomy of endothermic versus ectothermic is overly simplistic.

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