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Morphological innovation and the evolution of hadrosaurid dinosaurs

  • Thomas L. Stubbs (a1), Michael J. Benton (a1), Armin Elsler (a1) and Albert Prieto-Márquez (a2)


The hadrosaurids were a successful group of herbivorous dinosaurs. During the Late Cretaceous, 100 to 66 million years ago, hadrosaurids had high diversity, rapid speciation rates, and wide geographic distribution. Most hadrosaurids were large bodied and had similar postcranial skeletons. However, they show important innovations in the skull, including disparate crests that functioned as socio-sexual display structures, and a complex feeding apparatus, with specialized jaws bearing dental batteries. Little is known about the macroevolutionary processes that produced these evolutionary novelties. Here we provide novel perspectives using evolutionary rate and disparity analyses. Our results show that hadrosaurid cranial evolution was complex and dynamic, but their postcranial skeleton and body size were conservative. High cranial disparity was achieved through multiple bursts of phenotypic innovation. We highlight contrasting evolutionary trends within hadrosaurids between the disparate facial skeleton and crests, which both showed multiple high-rate shifts, and the feeding apparatus, which had low variance and high rates on a single phylogenetic branch leading to the diverse Saurolophidae. We reveal that rapid evolutionary rates were important for producing the high disparity of exaggerated crests and present novel evidence that the hadrosaurid diversification was linked to both a key adaptive innovation in the feeding apparatus and multiple bursts of innovation in socio-sexual displays.

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Present address: Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Carrer de l'Escola Industrial 23, 08201 Sabadell, Spain. E-mail:

Data available from the Dryad Digital Repository:



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Morphological innovation and the evolution of hadrosaurid dinosaurs

  • Thomas L. Stubbs (a1), Michael J. Benton (a1), Armin Elsler (a1) and Albert Prieto-Márquez (a2)


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