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Extreme postcranial pneumaticity in sauropod dinosaurs from South America


Birds are unique among living tetrapods in possessing pneumaticity of the postcranial skeleton, with invasion of bone by the lung and air-sac system. Postcranial skeletal pneumaticity (PSP) has been reported in numerous extinct archosaurs including pterosaurs and non-avian dinosaurs. Here we report a case of extreme PSP in a group of small-bodied, armored sauropod dinosaurs from the Upper Cretaceous of South America. Based on osteological data, we report an extensive invasion of pneumatic diverticula along the vertebral column, reaching the distal portion of the tail. Also, we provide evidence of pneumaticity in both pectoral and pelvic girdles. Our study reveals that the extreme PSP in archosaurs is not restricted to pterosaurs and theropod dinosaurs.


Vögel sind einzigartig innerhalb der lebenden Tetrapoden, da sie eine Pneumatisierung des Postkranialskeletts aufweisen, welche die Invasion von Knochen durch die Lunge und Luftsack-Systeme einschließt. Diese postkraniale Skelettpneumatisierung (PSP) ist bereits in zahlreichen ausgestorbenen Archosauriern, einschließlich Pterosauriern und Dinosauriern, die nicht der Vogellinie angehören, beschrieben worden. Hier berichten wir über einen Fall von extremer PSP in einer Gruppe von kleinwüchsigen, gepanzerten sauropoden Dinosauriern aus der Oberkreide von Südamerika. Basierend auf osteologischen Daten lässt sich eine umfangreiche Invasion von pneumatischen Divertikeln entlang der Wirbelsäule nachweisen, welche sich bis in die distalen Bereiche des Schwanzes erstreckt. Darüber hinaus zeigen sich Hinweise auf Pneumatisierung in beiden Brust- und Beckengürteln. Unsere Studie zeigt, dass diese extreme Form von PSP in Archosauriern nicht auf Flugsaurier und theropode Dinosaurier beschränkt ist.

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We thank Marcelo Reguero, Lucas Pomi, Carlos Muñoz, Norma Brugni and all the staff of Comision Amigos del Museo of Cinco Saltos for access to the specimens under their care, Maia Quintili, Silvia Fasano, Juan José Perazzolo and the authorities of the Policlinico Neuquén for CT scans, Brooks Britt for access to his unpublished PhD thesis, Rodrigo Pellegrini for reading the text and useful comments, Torsten Scheyer for translating the abstract into German and Jorge González for the skeletal reconstruction of Saltasaurus in Fig. 2. The quality of is work has been substantially improved by the useful comments and critical reviews of Roger Benson, Paul Upchurch and Richard Butler. This work was supported by Conicet (PIP 6455 to L.S) and Agencia de Promoción Científica y Técnica (PICT 357 to L.S.).

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Correspondence to Ignacio A. Cerda.

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Cerda, I.A., Salgado, L. & Powell, J.E. Extreme postcranial pneumaticity in sauropod dinosaurs from South America. Paläontol Z 86, 441–449 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12542-012-0140-6

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  • Sauropoda
  • Titanosauria
  • Upper Cretaceous
  • Air-sac system
  • Appendicular pneumaticity


  • Sauropoda
  • Titanosauria
  • Oberkreide
  • Luftsacksysteme
  • Appendikularpneumatisierung