Unexpected convergent evolution of nasal domes between Pleistocene bovids and cretaceous hadrosaur dinosaurs
The fossil record provides tangible, historical evidence for the mode and operation of evolution across deep time. Striking patterns of convergence are some of the strongest examples of these operations, whereby, over time, similar environmental and/or behavioral pressures precipitate similarity in form and function between disparately related taxa. Here we present fossil evidence for an unexpected convergence between gregarious plant-eating mammals and dinosaurs. Recent excavations of Late Pleistocene deposits on Rusinga Island, Kenya, have uncovered a catastrophic assemblage of the wildebeest-like bovid Rusingoryx atopocranion. Previously known from fragmentary material, these new specimens reveal large, hollow, osseous nasal crests: a craniofacial novelty for mammals that is remarkably comparable to the nasal crests of lambeosaurine hadrosaur dinosaurs. Using adult and juvenile material from this assemblage, as well as computed tomographic imaging, we investigate this convergence from morphological, developmental, functional, and paleoenvironmental perspectives. Our detailed analyses reveal broad parallels between R. atopocranion and basal Lambeosaurinae, suggesting that osseous nasal crests may require a highly specific combination of ontogeny, evolution, and environmental pressures in order to develop.