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[dinosaur] Virtual dinosaurs: soft tissue reconstruction + 3D box modeling + Body-mass estimation (free pdfs)

Ben Creisler

Catching up on few recent papers not yet mentioned...

The Paleontological Society Papers Volume 22 -  Virtual Paleontology from 2016 was posted online last month. The pdfs are now all free:



Notable for dinosaur stuff in particular:

Stephan Lautenschlager (2016)
Digital reconstruction of soft-tissue structures in fossils.
The Paleontological Society Papers  22: 101-117
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/scs.2017.10Published 

In the last two decades, advances in computational imaging techniques and digital visualization have created novel avenues for the study of fossil organisms. As a result, paleontology has undergone a shift from the pure study of physically preserved bones and teeth, and other hard tissues, to using virtual computer models to study specimens in greater detail, restore incomplete specimens, and perform biomechanical analyses. The rapidly increasing application of these techniques has further paved the way for the digital reconstruction of soft-tissue structures, which are rarely preserved or otherwise available in the fossil record. In this contribution, different types of digital soft-tissue reconstructions are introduced and reviewed. Provided examples include methodological approaches for the reconstruction of musculature, endocranial components (e.g., brain, inner ear, and neurovascular structures), and other soft tissues (e.g., whole-body and life reconstructions). Digital techniques provide versatile tools for the reconstruction of soft tissues, but given the nature of fossil specimens, some limitations and uncertainties remain. Nevertheless, digital reconstructions can provide new information, in particular if interpreted in a phylogenetically grounded framework. Combined with other digital analytical techniques (e.g., finite element analysis [FEA], multibody dynamics analysis [MDA], and computational fluid dynamics [CFD]), soft-tissue reconstructions can be used to elucidate the paleobiology of extinct organisms and to test competing evolutionary hypotheses.


Imran A. Rahman & Stephan Lautenschlager (2016)
Applications of three-dimensional box modeling to paleontological functional analysis.
The Paleontological Society Papers  22: 119-132
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/scs.2017.11

Functional analysis through computer modeling can inform on how extinct organisms moved and fed, allowing us to test long-standing paleobiological hypotheses. Many such studies are based on digital models derived from computed tomography or surface scanning, but these methods are not appropriate for all fossils. Here, we show that box modeling—3-D modeling of complex shapes based on simple objects—can be used to reconstruct the morphology of various fossil specimens. Moreover, the results of computational functional analyses utilizing such models are very similar to those for models derived from tomographic or surface-based techniques. Box modeling is more broadly applicable than alternative methods for digitizing specimens; hence, there is great potential for this approach in paleontological functional analysis. Possible applications include large-scale comparative studies, analyses of hypothetical morphologies, and virtually restoring incomplete/distorted specimens.


Charlotte A. Brassey (2016)
Body-mass estimation in paleontology: a review of volumetric techniques.
The Paleontological Society Papers  22: 133-156
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/scs.2017.12

Body mass is a key parameter for understanding the physiology, biomechanics, and ecology of an organism. Within paleontology, body mass is a fundamental prerequisite for many studies considering body-size evolution, survivorship patterns, and the occurrence of dwarfism and gigantism. The conventional method for estimating fossil body mass relies on allometric scaling relationships derived from skeletal metrics of extant taxa, but the recent application of three-dimensional imaging techniques to paleontology (e.g., surface laser scanning, computed tomography, and photogrammetry) has allowed for the rapid digitization of fossil specimens. Volumetric body-mass estimation methods based on whole articulated skeletons are therefore becoming increasingly popular. Volume-based approaches offer several advantages, including the ability to reconstruct body-mass distribution around the body, and their relative insensitivity to particularly robust or gracile elements, i.e., the so-called ‘one bone effect.’ Yet their application to the fossil record will always be limited by the paucity of well-preserved specimens. Furthermore, uncertainties with regards to skeletal articulation, body density, and soft-tissue distribution must be acknowledged and their effects quantified. Future work should focus on extant taxa to improve our understanding of body composition and increase confidence in volumetric model input parameters.