A brand new study using up-to-date fossil records and improved analytical tools has aided palaeontologists in building a new narrative of the prehistoric creatures’ demise, some 66 million years ago.
They discovered that in the few million years prior to the 10km-wide asteroid strike in what is now Mexico, Earth was experiencing an environmental upheaval. This included extensive volcanic activity, changing sea levels and varying temperatures.
At the time, the dinosaur’s food chain was weakened by a lack of diversity among the large plant-eating dinosaurs on which others preyed. This may have been as a result of the changes in the climate and environment.
This resulted in the perfect storm in which dinosaurs were vulnerable, making it unlikely that they would survive after the asteroid strike.
The impact would have caused tsunamis, earthquakes, wildfires, sudden temperature swings, amongst other environmental changes. As food chains collapsed, this would have wiped out the dinosaur kingdom one species after another. The only dinosaurs to survive were those with the ability of flight, who evolved to become the birds of today.
It has been suggested by researchers that if the asteroid struck just a few million years earlier, when the range of dinosaur species was more diverse and food chains were more robust, or later, when the species had time to evolve, then they very likely would have survived.
An international team of palaeontologists led by the University of Edinburgh studied an updated catalogue of dinosaur fossils, mostly from North America, to create a picture of how dinosaurs changed over the few million years before the asteroid hit. They hope that ongoing studies in Spain and China will help obtain an even better understanding of what occurred.
The study, published in Biological Reviews, was supported by the US National Science Foundation and the European Commission. The research was led by the Universities of Edinburgh and Birmingham in collaboration with the University of Oxford, Imperial College London, Baylor University, and University College London. The world’s leading dinosaur museums- The National History Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, the Royal Ontario Museum, the American Museum of Natural History and the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science- also took part.
Dr Steve Brusatte, from the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, said: “The dinosaurs were victims of colossal bad luck. Not only did a giant asteroid strike, but it happened at the worst possible time, when their ecosystems were vulnerable. Our new findings help clarify one of the enduring mysteries of science.”
Dr Richard Butler from the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham said: “There has long been intense scientific debate about the cause of the dinosaur extinction. Although our research suggests that dinosaur communities were particularly vulnerable at the time the asteroid hit, there is nothing to suggest that dinosaurs were doomed to extinction. Without that asteroid, the dinosaurs would probably still be here, and we very probably would not.”
Contributing Source: University of Edinburgh
Header Image Source: Wikimedia