- The Paleontological Society
Histologic studies of embryonic and perinatal longbones of living birds, non-avian dinosaurs, and other reptiles show a strong phylogenetic signal in the distribution of tissues and patterns of vascularization in both the shafts and the bone ends. The embryonic bones of basal archosaurs and other reptiles have thin-walled cortices and large marrow cavities that are sometimes subdivided by erosion rooms in early stages of growth. The cortices of basal reptiles are poorly vascularized, and osteocyte lacunae are common but randomly organized. Additionally, there is no evidence of fibrolamellar tissue organization around the vascular spaces. Compared with turtles, basal archosaurs show an increase in vascularization, better organized osteocytes, and some fibrolamellar tissue organization. In dinosaurs, including birds, vascularization is greater than in basal archosaurs, as is cortical thickness, and the osteocyte lacunae are more abundant and less randomly organized. Fibrolamellar tissues are evident around vascular canals and form organized primary osteons in older perinates and juveniles.
Metaphyseal (“epiphyseal”) morphology varies with the acquisition of new features in derived groups. The cartilage cone, persistent through the Reptilia (crown-group reptiles, including birds), is completely calcified in ornithischian dinosaurs before it is eroded by marrow processes; cartilage canals, absent in basal archosaurs, are present in Dinosauria; a thickened calcified hypertrophy zone in Dinosauria indicates an acceleration of longitudinal bone growth.
Variations in this set of histological synapomorphies overlap between birds and non-avian dinosaurs. In birds, these variations are strongly correlated with life-history strategies. This overlap, plus independent evidence from nesting sites, reinforces the hypothesis that variations in bone growth strategies in Mesozoic dinosaurs reflect different life-history strategies, including nesting behavior of neonates and parental care.