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How might social structure influence dinosaurs? (Flickr CC: grahambancroft)

Neoteny in Dinosaurs

March 1, 2010 | Leave a Comment

Category: Biology, Neoteny, Social Structure

An article in Science News last October 31 called attention to a discovery:  “These dinosaurs were not separate species, as some paleontologists claim, but different growth stages of previously named dinosaurs, according to a new study.”

“Juveniles and adults of these dinosaurs look very, very different from adults, and literally may resemble a different species,” said dinosaur expert Mark B. Goodwin, assistant director of UC Berkeley’s Museum of Paleontology.  “But some scientists are confusing morphological differences at different growth stages with characteristics that are taxonomically important.  The result is an inflated number of dinosaurs in the late Cretaceous.”

In the article, Goodwin’s associate, John “Jack” Horner, says, “Dinosaurs, like birds and many mammals, retain neoteny, that is, they retain their juvenile characteristics for a long period of growth, which is a strong indicator that they were very social animals, grouping in flocks or herds with long periods of parental care.”

Horner associates neoteny with sociality, suggesting that animals that congregate throughout their lives exhibit neotenous characteristics.  I wish I knew more about these areas.  My next question is:  Are there specific social structures associated with those animals that group in flocks and herds?

If it is true that in animals, when neoteny emerges as influential in the way ancient species appear, we can assume that these are social animals, then can we also assume particular social structures were in play?  If this is the case, and social structures are influenced by the environment, then this supports an ability to possibly examine not only species alive today, but ancient species like the ones that Goodwin and Horner describe, in a context of environment and social structure informing evolution.

Postulate 23:  The Orchestral Theory of Evolution is the study of the rates and timing of maturation, with testosterone levels impacting rate and estrogen levels controlling timing, with those environmental or social structure adjustments that influence levels of testosterone and estrogen determining the speed, timing, features and direction of evolution.

What I’m trying to get a feel for here is how universal, exactly, are the principles that I’m playing with.  I keep seeing signs, smelling flavors that call my attention to this alternative frame of reference.  The Goodwin-Horner study suggests that neotenous features suggest flock/herd inclinations.  Prolonging the features of infancy, dependency and close attention on the mother into the adult of species encourages social behaviors.  How clear is the pattern that species that congregate exhibit greater neoteny than those that don’t?  The implications of that suggestion are profound.  Frankly, outside my exploring this in connection to humans, it is not something I’ve ever considered, except in the context of social structure.

What exactly are the social structure predilections of congregating, herd and flock species?


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