Nuchal ligament reconstructions in diplodocid sauropods support horizontal neck feeding postures
D. Cary Woodruff
Historically, sauropods have been largely perceived as having vertical, S'-curved necks which were hypothesised to allow them to feed from the canopy of trees. Within the past two decades, this popular perception has been questioned, resulting in a debate over neck posture. The osteological differences between sauropods with horizontal neck posture (Diplodocus), and less horizontally inclined necks (Brachiosaurus) suggest differing life and feeding styles. One differing vertebral feature between these polarised bauplans is the bifurcated neural spine. Regardless of the spine condition, sauropods with and without bifurcated spines have been reconstructed exhibiting the same neck posture. Corroborating histology and morphology in extant taxa highlights the presence of modified vertebral ligaments associated with bifurcated spines. Using these extant taxa to better understand the biomechanics of bifurcated spines, this study proposes alternative soft tissue reconstructions. Previous depictions had the bifurcation trough entirely open or harbouring pneumatic diverticula or muscles; conversely this study proposes that the apices of the bifurcated spines were the anchoring points for a split nuchal ligament, and that the trough of bifurcation was predominantly filled with interspinal ligaments. Ligaments provide energy-efficient elastic rebound, and a paired ligament in the cervical series would aid in prolonged, lateral movement in a horizontal plane (i.e. feeding).
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