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Brain structure provides key to unraveling function of bizarre dinosaur crests

ATHENS, Ohio (Oct. 16, 2008) Paleontologists have long debated the function of the strange, bony crests on the heads of the duck-billed dinosaurs known as lambeosaurs. The structures contain incredibly long, convoluted nasal passages that loop up over the tops of their skulls.

Scientists at the University of Toronto, Ohio University and Montana State University now have used CT-scanning to look inside these mysterious crests and reconstruct the brains and nasal cavities of four different lambeosaur species. At the annual meeting of the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology in Cleveland, Ohio, on Oct. 16, the team will present new study findings that suggest the crests were used for communication.

"The shape of the brain can tell us a lot about what senses were important in a dinosaur's everyday life, and give insight into the function of the crests," said study lead author David Evans, a paleontologist at the Royal Ontario Museum and the University of Toronto.

Some paleontologists have suggested that the crests heightened the sense of smell by increasing the surface area of the sensory tissue. Others have argued that they regulated temperature, and still others have speculated that the crests acted as sound resonators for communication.

"It's difficult to infer the function of structures in an extinct dinosaur when there is so little resemblance to any living animal," said Jack Horner, a member of the team and paleontologist at Montana State University.

By analyzing CT scans, conducted by Lawrence Witmer and Ryan Ridgely of Ohio University's College of Osteopathic Medicine, the scientists were able to circumvent the problems of fossilization.

"Even though the soft tissues are not preserved in the fossils, the shape of the bones that encase the brain and nasal passages are," said Evans. "From there, the anatomy of these missing soft parts is easily interpreted."

The CT scan results reveale

Contact: Andrea Gibson
Ohio University

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