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Tetrapod Zoology

Tetrapod Zoology

Amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals - living and extinct

Because giraffes are heartless creatures, and other musings

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Those of you who read the recent Tet Zoo article on The Second International Workshop on Sauropod Biology and Gigantism may have been wondering about the odd picture I showed in one of the slides of my talk. It was some sort of ‘survival of the fittest’ cartoon posed as a multi-choice exam question: it shows long-necked giraffes surviving in times of hardship while their short-necked brethren starve to death and decompose. Standard high-school textbook stuff. What makes the diagram funny - the reason it was included in my talk - is that some student genius sought to modify it. And hence we have...

This has become one of those internet meme things (among science nerds, at least) and is easy to find online. If you’re already familiar with it, pat yourself on the back for being wickedly trendy and down with the kids. And while we’re here, here’s another, err, interesting illustration I used in my talk...

What the hell kind of point was I trying to make here? It’s a response to Senter’s proposal that the sauropod neck might have evolved primarily for use in sexual selection (Senter 2007). There are lots of reasons for disputing this proposal - as you’ll know if you've read the Tet Zoo article on the subject, or the response I and colleagues published (Taylor et al. 2011) - but it’s a specific reference to our argument that suggesting that sexual selection operated on the same part of the body across the entirety of Sauropoda throughout its long history looks extraordinarily unlikely in view of what we know about other tetrapods. It would be similar to seeing, for example, Megaloceros-like antlers distributed across the whole of Artiodactyla. And there we have it.

Refs - -

Senter, P. 2007. Necks for sex: sexual selection as an explanation for sauropod dinosaur neck elongation. Journal of Zoology 271, 45-53.

Taylor, M., Hone, D., Wedel, M. & Naish, D. 2011. The long necks of sauropods did not evolve primarily through sexual selection. Journal of Zoology 285, 150-161 [free pdf]

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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