NSF program director press statement on dinosaur nasal discovery

August 02, 2001

Statement by


On dinosaur nasal discovery

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is proud to have funded this research by Lawrence Witmer of Ohio University. Witmer's work is important because it helps biologists to more realistically depict the soft tissue biology of dinosaurs and to explore their respiratory functions in more detail. Placement of the nostrils determines how air would flow and might affect the nasal passages' role in olfaction and exchange of heat or water.

Putting bones together correctly is a paleobiologist's specialty. Do it correctly, and you get clues to how an extinct animal lived. Make a mistake, and you might end up with a fossil horse that walked on two legs or a Tyrranosaurus rex that walked on four. Learning the biological rules for assembling the bones of extinct animals is notoriously hard, but learning the rules for how to place the rest of the animal on those bones may be even harder.

While the connection to dinosaur biology is what will excite most people, Witmer's results are significant for two other reasons. First, they expand our knowledge of soft tissue anatomy in birds, reptiles and mammals -- an area of research that has slowed in recent years. Second, they show how studies of modern animals may enable paleobiologists to infer the structure of soft tissues that don't fossilize well. If biologists can reconstruct the soft tissue anatomy of dinosaurs, they will be better able to understand how dinosaurs lived.

National Science Foundation

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