Pachycephalosaur noses hit the news

October 20, 2014

I am proud to announce that our manuscript detailing the soft-tissue reconstruction and airflow analysis within the nose of a dinosaur, has been published in the Anatomical Record's special nose edition. This paper was a long time coming. The story behind it first started back in 2007–2008 with the discovery of a partial dome from the pachycephalosaur Sphaerotholus edmontonensis (then thought to have been in the genus Prenocephale)  by paleontologist Tyler Lyson. The dome revealed the preservation of olfactory turbinates within the nasal cavity, as well as a second set of structure that may or may not be respiratory turbinates (without the rest of the facial skeleton it remains impossible to tell). With the aid of paleontologist Emma Schachner the initial write up of specimen made the rounds through reviewers but was never able to find a good home. Later in 2012 or so, this work was brought to Witmer and colleagues where it was absorbed into a larger project looking at turbinates in pachycephalosaurs in general (namely the pachycephalosaur Stegoceras validum). CT scans provided by paleontologist Phil Bell, revealed well preserved olfactory turbinates in the type specimen, as well as ridges on the nasal roof that may have housed respiratory turbinates. In 2013 I was brought in along with my colleague Ruger Porter, to simulate air movement through the nasal passage and see if it could tell us something about these ridges as well as the overall olfactory ability of S. validum. In July of 2013 I was invited to present my work at the 10th meeting of the International Congress on Vertebrate Morphology. There was a special session devoted to the vertebrate nose that was sponsored by the Anatomical Record. An unexpected benefit of this session's sponsorship was that the Anatomical Record was willing to publish a special issue featuring papers that came from these talks. This would ultimately be the final rest stop for the pachy nose article, but first it had to be written. Having seven authors onboard meant making sure that everyone had their chance to provide their input on the paper, which when everyone is spread across the globe, can take some time. As this was a special issue, there were some hard deadlines imposed to make sure everyone had a chance to get their drafts into review on time. By February of 2014 we had submitted the paper, had it reviewed (positively), and made the necessary corrections. The initial publication date for the issue was slated for April of that year, but stumbling blocks arose (getting researchers to all submit things on time can be a bit like herding cats) that eventually pushed the issue back into fall of 2014.

 

Which brings us to today with the release of the paper. I feel very proud of how it came out. We were able to say quite a lot while maintaining cautious language in regards to overall interpretations. We were also able to get many page-width images in, which is pretty important when dealing with anatomical descriptions of 3D structures (the more images the better). I was also impressed with the fairly large press coverage the article received from major news outlets like the Daily Mail and Discovery News, among others.

 

We have made a web page with links to the paper and various supplemental information (e.g., movies) which can be found here.

 

Congrats to my co-authors and the editorial team for getting this out the door. It was a long, hard road, but it was worth the trip.

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