Chthonic severance: dinosaur eggs of the Mesozoic, the significance of partially buried eggs and contact incubation precursors

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Date

2023-07

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Publisher

The Royal Society

Abstract

For most dinosaurs, clutches consisted of a single layer of spherical to sub-spherical, highly porous eggs that were probably fully buried. Both eggs and clutch form change drastically with pennaraptoran theropods, the clade that includes birds. Here, far less porous, more elongate eggs are arranged with additional complexity, and only partially buried. While partial egg burial seems to be effective for an extremely small group of modern birds, the behaviour's overall rarity complicates our understanding of Mesozoic analogies. Recent experimental examination of pennaraptoran nesting thermodynamics suggests that partial egg burial, combined with contact incubation, may be more efficacious than has been presumed. We propose that nest guarding behaviour by endothermic archosaurs may have led to an indirect form of contact incubation using metabolic energy to affect temperature change in a buried clutch through a barrier of sediment, which in turn may have selected for shallower clutch burial to increasingly benefit from adult-generated energy until partial egg exposure. Once partially exposed, continued selection pressure may have aided a transition to fully subaerial eggs. This hypothesis connects the presence of partially buried dinosaurian clutches with the transition from basal, crocodile-like nesting (buried clutches guarded by adults) to the dominant avian habit of contact incubating fully exposed eggs.

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Keywords

Pennaraptora, partial egg burial, contact incubation

Citation

Hogan JD, Varricchio DJ. 2023 Chthonic severance: dinosaur eggs of the Mesozoic, the significance of partially buried eggs and contact incubation precursors. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 378: 20220144. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2022.0144
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