Edina Prondvai (2016)
Medullary bone in fossils: function, evolution and significance in growth curve reconstructions of extinct vertebrates
Journal of Evolutionary Biology (advance online publication)
Medullary bone (MB) is a special endosteal tissue forming in the bones of female birds during egg-laying to serve as a labile calcium reservoir for building the hard eggshell. Therefore, the presence of MB reported in multiple non-avian dinosaurs is currently considered as evidence that those specimens were sexually mature females in their reproductive period. This interpretation has led to further inferences on species-specific growth strategies and related life history aspects of these extinct vertebrates. However, a few studies questioned the reproductive significance of fossil MB by either regarding the tissue pathological or attributing alternative functions to it. The current study reviews the general inferences on extinct vertebrates and discusses the primary role, distribution, regulation, and adaptive significance of avian MB to point out important but largely overlooked uncertainties and inconsistencies in this matter. Emerging discordancy is demonstrated when presence of MB versus trade-off between growth and reproduction is used for interpreting dinosaurian growth curves. Synthesis of these data suggests that fossil MB was related to high calcium turnover rates but not exclusively to egg laying. Furthermore, revised application of Allosaurus growth data by modelling individual-based growth curves implies a much higher intraspecific variability in growth strategies, including timing of sexual maturation, than usually acknowledged. New hypotheses raised here to resolve these incongruences also propose new directions of research on the origin and functional evolution of this curious bone tissue.