Ceratopsia or the herbivorous group of dinosaurs that thrived during the Cretaceous period may have developed facial elaborate horns and frills in order to attract mates, a group of scientists exploring the past of the now-extinct animal has suggested.
Over the years, scientists have been conducting studies to understand what drove the evolution of this unique facial feature.
Some suggested horns and frills developed as a defense tool for the animals or to regulate body heat, while others proposed the feature might have evolved to help the animals identify different species living with them at the same place. This, as they said, would have prevented the problem of hybridization or the situation where two different species end up producing a weak, unfit offspring.
While the first two theories were ruled out in a previous study, the third one has just been contradicted by a group of researchers from Queen Mary University of London who think the feature evolved to help the animals attract mates, much like peacocks’ tail feathers and proboscis monkeys’ long noses.
The group analyzed fossils of 46 ceratopsian dinosaur species but could not find any difference between the species’ living together and those living at a different place.
“We have shown that species recognition, one of the commonest explanations, is unlikely to be responsible for the diversity or origin of ornamentation in this group,” Andrew Knapp, the lead author of the study, said in a statement.
According to them, for something like preventing mating with other species, the animals might have some subtle or less elaborate feature than this. Because the goal was just to repel.
But in this case, the horns seem to have evolved much faster than other features, something that suggests ceratopsian dinosaurs may have given extra-evolutionary effort in order to develop traits demonstrating their suitability as a partner for the opposite sex.
Computer models have suggested socio-sexual selection, as suggested in this study, promotes rapid speciation, adaptation, and leads to extinction.
However, to dig deep into the impact of such processes on living beings, the researchers plan to delve further to fossil records and gather evidence proving that socio-sexual selection was indeed the factor leading to the evolutionary history dinosaur horns and frills.
“If sexual selection is indeed the driver of ornament evolution in ceratopsians, as we are increasingly confident it is, demonstrating it through different lines of evidence can provide a crucial window into tracing its effects over potentially huge timescales,” Knapp added.
The study on the fossil records was detailed in a paper published in the Royal Society journal.