SYDNEY, Aug. 11 (Xinhua) -- A team of scientists from Australia's University of Queensland (UQ) and Monash University have shown how some of the largest land dinosaurs were able to support their huge --physics-defying- bodies.
The team found that the largest dinosaurs, like the Brontosaurus and Diplodocus, had a soft tissue pad beneath their heel which would act as a cushion for their immense weight.
The findings were published in the Science Advances journal and released on Thursday.
"We've finally confirmed a long-suspected idea and provided biomechanical evidence that a soft tissue pad would have played a crucial role in reducing locomotor pressures and bone stresses," said Dr. Andreas Jannel, who conducted the research during his Ph.D. studies at UQ's Dinosaur Lab.
Sauropods are a taxonomy of dinosaurs that included the largest and heaviest animals to ever walk the earth - the largest are estimated to have weighed over 100 tonnes - 10 times as heavy as the largest elephants.
This has long piqued scientists' interest in how their bone structures supported such large weights. Previous theories have suggested it was due to a unique bone structure, which had much greater strength than normal bones, and before that, it was theorized that they were semi-aquatic and water buoyancy helped support their weight.
The scientists were able to fill in the latest puzzle piece through computer modeling of the dinosaurs' feet. It found that rather than a skeletal structure the feet were columnar-like and feet bones were supported by a large soft tissue pad.
UQ's Associate Professor Steve Salisbury said it was important to note that dinosaurs had different evolutionary origins to today's heaviest mammals - elephants.
"Elephants belong to an ancient order of mammals called proboscideans, which first appeared in Africa roughly 60 million years ago as small, nondescript herbivores," said Salisbury.
"In contrast, sauropods - whose ancestors first appeared 230 million years ago - are more closely related to birds."
It means that they began as two-legged herbivores and as they dropped down to all fours, they would have adapted a heel pad.
The researchers hope that the model can be applied to a variety of areas of prehistoric animal research, and continue to add weight to our understanding of the land before time.