Growth variability, dimensional scaling, and the interpretation of osteohistological growth data

Thomas M. Cullen, Caleb M. Brown, Kentaro Chiba, Kirstin S. Brink, Peter J. Makovicky, David C. Evans

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Osteohistological data are commonly used to study the life history of extant and extinct tetrapods. While recent advances have permitted detailed reconstructions of growth patterns, physiology and other features using these data, they are most commonly used in assessments of ontogenetic stage and relative growth in extinct animals. These methods have seen widespread adoption in recent years, rapidly becoming a common component of the taxonomic description of new fossil taxa, but are often applied without close consideration of the sources of variation present or the dimensional scaling relationships that exist among different osteohistological measurements. Here, we use a combination of theoretical models and empirical data from a range of extant and extinct tetrapods to review sources of variability in common osteohistological measurements, their dimensional scaling relationships and the resulting interpretations that can be made from those data. In particular, we provide recommendations on the usage and interpretation of growth mark spacing/zonal thickness data, when these are likely to be unreliable, and under what conditions they can provide useful inferences for studies of growth and life history.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20210383
JournalBiology letters
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
T.M.C.'s research was supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Postdoctoral Fellowship (grant no. PDF-545802-2020) and the Kenneth C. Griffin Fund. P.J.M.'s current research on fossil vertebrate growth and palaeoecology are supported by NSF awards PLR 1341645 and FRES 1925884. Research was also supported by an NSERC Discovery Grant to D.C.E. (grant no. RGPIN 355845). Acknowledgements

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s).


  • bird
  • dinosaur
  • growth
  • mammal
  • ontogeny
  • osteohistology


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