Dinosaur energetics: setting the bounds on feasible physiologies and ecologies
The metabolic status of dinosaurs has long been debated but remains unresolved as no consistent picture has emerged from a range of anatomical and isotopic evidence. Quantitative analysis of dinosaur energetics, based on general principles applicable to all vertebrates, shows that many features of dinosaur lifestyle are compatible with a physiology similar to that of extant lizards, scaled up to dinosaur body masses and temperatures. The analysis suggests that sufficient metabolic scope would have been available to support observed dinosaur growth rates and allow considerable locomotor activity, perhaps even migration. Since at least one dinosaur lineage evolved true endothermy, this study emphasizes there was no single dinosaur physiology. Many small theropods were insulated with feathers and appear to have been partial or full endotherms. Uninsulated small taxa, and all juveniles, presumably would have been ectothermic, with consequent diurnal and seasonal variations in body temperature. In larger taxa, inertial homeothermy would have resulted in warm and stable body temperatures but with a basal metabolism significantly below that of extant mammals or birds of the same size. It would appear that dinosaurs exhibited a range of metabolic levels to match the broad spectrum of ecological niches they occupied.