Dicraeosauridae is a family of mid-sized sauropod dinosaurs characterized by a distinctive vertebral column with paired, long, neural spines. Argentinian dicraeosarids include Amargasaurus cazaui, Pilmatueia faundezi and Bajadasaurus pronuspinax. The group was first described in 1914 by Werner Janensch with the discovery of the nearly complete skeletons of Dicraeosaurus in the expeditions to the upper Jurassic beds of Tendaguru, Tanzania. The discovery of Amargasaurus cazaui in 1991, from the Early Cretaceous beds of La Amarga Formation of Northern Patagonia, renewed the discussion on the peculiar vertebral anatomy of these sauropod dinosaurs.
The hyperelongated hemispinous processes of dicraeosarids were interpreted by some authors as a support structure for a thermoregulatory sail, a padded crest as a display and/or clattering structure, a dorsal hump, or as internal cores of dorsal horn. A new study lead by Ignacio Cerda tested these hypotheses using internal microanatomy and bone microstructure from the holotype of Amargasaurus, and a fragmentary dicreaosaurid specimen (MOZ-Pv 6126-1, consisting of an almost complete anterior dorsal vertebra) also from the La Amarga Formation (Barremian–Aptian, Lower Cretaceous).
Despite that the organic components of mineralised tissues decay after death, the inorganic components of bone preserve the spatial orientation of organic components such as osteocyte lacunae, vascular canals, and collagen ﬁbres. Armand de Ricqlès, in the 1960s and 1970s, observed that paleohistological features could be correlated with growth rates and thus could indirectly shed light on the thermal physiology of extinct organisms. Previous paleohistological studies in dicraeosarids revealed particular histological features regarding the vascularization pattern and cortical resorption.
The hemispinous processes from Amargasaurus and MOZ-Pv 6126-1 essentially consist of compact bone tissue. The study lead by Ignacio Cerda also found that secondary remodelling is profuse not only in the perimedullary region but also in the outer cortex. The histological features analized comprise a highly vascularized fibrolamellar bone interrupted with CGMs (cyclical growth marks), presence of obliquely oriented Sharpey’s fibres, and abundant secondary osteons irregularly distributed within the cortex.
The spatial distribution and orientation of the Sharpey’s fibres indicate the presence of an important system of interspinous ligaments, covered by the integumentary system, which resulted in the formation of a prominent cervical sail in this taxon. However, there is not anatomical or histological evidence that support the presence of a keratinized sheath. The new study also suggests that the cervical sail in Amargasaurus could be used as a display device, a term that includes ‘intraspecific agonistic, deterrent, or sexual display structures’. Unfortunately, the dicraeosaurid record is still too scarce to determine the existence of sexual dimorphism in this clade.
Ignacio A. Cerda, Fernando E. Novas, José Luis Carballido, Leonardo Salgado (2022): Osteohistology of the hyperelongate hemispinous processes of Amargasaurus cazaui (Dinosauria: Sauropoda): Implications for soft tissue reconstruction and functional significance. In: Journal of Anatomy. DOI: 10.1111/joa.13659
Windholz, G. J., & Cerda, I. A. (2021). Paleohistology of two dicraeosaurid dinosaurs (Sauropoda; Diplodocoidea) from La Amarga Formation (Barremian–Aptian, Lower Cretaceous), Neuquén Basin, Argentina: Paleobiological implications. Cretaceous Research, 128, 104965. doi: 10.1016/j.cretres.2021.1049
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Windholz, G. J., Baiano, M. A., Bellardini, F., & Garrido, A. (2020). New Dicraeosauridae (Sauropoda, Diplodocoidea) remains from the La Amarga Formation (Barremian–Aptian, Lower Cretaceous), Neuquén Basin, Patagonia, Argentina. Cretaceous Research, 104629. doi: 10.1016/j.cretres.2020.10462