Testing Size-Frequency Distributions as a Method of Ontogenetic Aging: A Life-History Assessment of Hadrosaurid Dinosaurs from the Dinosaur Park Formation of Alberta, Canada, with Implications for Hadrosaurid Paleoecology

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Hadrosaurid dinosaurs, the dominant large-bodied terrestrial herbivores in most Laurasian Late Cretaceous ecosystems, have an exceptional fossil record consisting of many species known from partial ontogenetic series, making them an ideal clade with which to conduct life-history studies. Previous research considered the Dinosaur Park Formation (DPF) of Alberta as an attritional, or time-averaged, sample and interpreted size–frequency distribution of long bones collected from the DPF with three size classes to suggest that hadrosaurids from the DPF attained near-asymptotic body size in under 3 years. This conflicted with previously published osteohistological estimates of 6+ years for penecontemporaneous hadrosaurids from the Two Medicine Formation (TMF) of Montana, suggesting either extreme variation in hadrosaurid growth rates or that size–frequency distributions and/or osteohistology and growth modeling inaccurately estimate ontogenetic age.

We tested the validity of the previously proposed size–age relationship of hadrosaurids from the DPF by significantly increasing sample size and combining data from size–frequency distributions and osteohistology across multiple long-bone elements. The newly constructed size–frequency distributions typically reveal four relatively distinct size–frequency peaks that, when integrated with the osteohistological data, aligned with growth marks. The yearling size class was heavily underrepresented in the size–frequency distribution. If not due to preservation, this suggests that either juvenile (age) hadrosaurids from the DPF had increased survivorship following an initially high nestling mortality rate or that yearlings were segregated from adults. A growth-curve analysis revealed asymptotic body size was attained in approximately 7 years, which is consistent with hadrosaurids from the TMF. The data suggest size–frequency distributions of attritional samples underestimate age and overestimate growth rates, but when paired with osteohistology can provide unique life-history insights.




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