James Pinto L&S Biological Sciences
Osteohistology of Hyperelongate Neural Spines Across Amniotes
Hyperelongate neural spines (HENSs), which often form a “sailback” along the axial column, have arisen independently in amniotes at least 12 times, in distantly related groups of animals over 100s of millions years. Suggestions for the functions of HENSs include that they served as thermoregulators, as display organs, and/or as biomechanical support. Osteohistology (internal bone microstructure) can be informative for comparing these hypotheses of HENS function, particularly using living taxa with HENSs, like species of lizards and bovids, as a framework for the relationship between structure and function in extinct species. This project will describe osteohistology of thin sections of neural spines from basilisks, bison, dinosaurs, and stem-mammals, a group of Triassic reptiles known as ctenosauriscids. By analyzing finer details in the internal structures of different HENSs, like presence of Sharpey’s fibers, position of growth lamellae, orientation and location of vascular canals, and torsional rigidity, which indicate musculature connections, growth rate, vascularity, and structural integrity, respectively, the project will assess functional and structural relationships in repeated convergent evolutions of “sailbacks”, a currently poorly understood evolutionary adaptation.