Convoluted nasal passages function as efficient heat exchangers in ankylosaurs (Dinosauria: Ornithischia: Thyreophora)

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© 2018 Bourke et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Convoluted nasal passages are an enigmatic hallmark of Ankylosauria. Previous research suggested that these convoluted nasal passages functioned as heat exchangers analogous to the respiratory turbinates of mammals and birds. We tested this hypothesis by performing a computational fluid dynamic analysis on the nasal passages of two ankylosaurs: Panoplosaurus mirus and Euoplocephalus tutus. Our models predicted that Panoplosaurus and Euoplocephalus would have required 833 and 1568 thermal calories, respectively, to warm a single breath of air by 20C. Heat recovery during exhalation resulted in energy savings of 65% for Panoplosaurus and 84% for Euoplocephalus. Our results fell well within the range of values for heat and water savings observed in extant terrestrial amniotes. We further tested alternate airway reconstructions that removed nasal passage convolutions or reduced nasal vestibule length. Our results revealed that the extensive elaboration observed in the nasal vestibules of ankylosaurs was a viable alternative to respiratory turbinates with regards to air conditioning. Of the two dinosaurs tested, Euoplocephalus repeatedly exhibited a more efficient nasal passage than Panoplosaurus. We suggest that the higher heat loads associated with the larger body mass of Euoplocephalus necessitated these more efficient nasal passages. Our findings further indicate that the evolution of complicated airways in dinosaurs may have been driven by the thermal requirements of maintaining cerebral thermal homeostasis.