Dinosaurs fell victim to perfect storm of events, study shows

Jul 28, 2014
This is a timeline of the existence of dinosaurs. Credit: Dr Thomas Williamson, New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science

Dinosaurs might have survived the asteroid strike that wiped them out if it had taken place slightly earlier or later in history, scientists say.

A fresh study using up-to-date fossil records and improved analytical tools has helped palaeontologists to build a new narrative of the prehistoric creatures' demise, some 66 million years ago.

They found that in the few million years before a 10km-wide asteroid struck what is now Mexico, Earth was experiencing environmental upheaval. This included extensive volcanic activity, changing sea levels and varying temperatures.

At this time, the ' food chain was weakened by a lack of diversity among the large plant-eating dinosaurs on which others preyed. This was probably because of changes in the climate and environment.

This created a perfect storm in which dinosaurs were vulnerable and unlikely to survive the aftermath of the .

The impact would have caused tsunamis, earthquakes, wildfires, sudden temperature swings and 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 who could fly, which evolved to become the birds of today.

Researchers suggest that if the asteroid had struck a few million years earlier, when the range of dinosaur species was more diverse and food chains were more robust, or later, when new 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 aid even better understanding of what occurred.

Their study, published in Biological Reviews, was supported by the US National Science Foundation and the European Commission. It 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 top dinosaur museums – The Natural 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, of 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 of 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 , the dinosaurs would probably still be here, and we very probably would not."

Explore further: How mass extinctions drove the evolution of dinosaurs

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User comments : 11

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BSD
2.3 / 5 (3) Jul 28, 2014
Very good article.
verkle
1 / 5 (9) Jul 28, 2014
What perfect scientific rubbish and postulation. Don't you love these kind of statements:

"Dinosaurs might have...."

"This was probably because of...."

"Evolution" is the world's biggest made up story today.

dogbert
1 / 5 (3) Jul 28, 2014
Interesting article. Doesn't really explain why the bird-like dinosaurs survived while all other dinosaurs, regardless of size or food source, did not survive.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (4) Jul 28, 2014
Interesting article. Doesn't really explain why the bird-like dinosaurs survived while all other dinosaurs, regardless of size or food source, did not survive.

Wider ranging ability to locate food? In a "hunting" scenario, they had the high ground...
LariAnn
1 / 5 (6) Jul 28, 2014
If the basic drivers of evolution over the millions of years were the same after the dinosaur extinction as they were before, I'd think that 66 million years of evolutionary development would have been more than enough for an advanced technological saurian race to have developed. This article explains, in a way, why we find no evidence of such a race. It was, probably, because they evacuated the planet well before the asteroid came and they did so due to their knowledge of the increasing vulnerability/instability of the global ecosystems. Of course, they took their tech with them and, after so many millions of years of development, had learned what we have yet to learn - don't leave tech garbage lying around for posterity!
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.3 / 5 (6) Jul 28, 2014
What perfect scientific rubbish and postulation. Don't you love these kind of statements:

"Dinosaurs might have...."

"This was probably because of...."

"Evolution" is the world's biggest made up story today.

Verkle: "I have 2 science degrees"

-You do know that Christian Science is not a science don't you?

"ORU is also one of the few undergraduate colleges in the southwest to have a human cadaver dissection class. While ORU is considered a Christian University, the College of Science and Engineering does not ignore evolutionary theories to teach Creationism."

-They don't 'ignore' evolution. How progressive.

"Rather, the students are taught to think critically for themselves."

-Always keeping in mind that all critical thought originates in the father. Or the son. Or the Holy Spirit. One if the 3. Or all of them who knows? Maybe gods mother knows.
t_d_lowe
not rated yet Jul 28, 2014
Another way to conclude this is to say that dinosaurs died out as a combination of a large volcanic period (which incidentally is the cause of the other mass extinctions) and the asteroid impact played a part as well.
cjn
5 / 5 (1) Jul 29, 2014
Interesting article. Doesn't really explain why the bird-like dinosaurs survived while all other dinosaurs, regardless of size or food source, did not survive.


I'd be willing to bet that they were much smaller than a vast majority of dinosaurs, and so were more mobile and could leverage the smaller species of insects which survived.
dogbert
1 / 5 (3) Jul 29, 2014
I'd be willing to bet that they were much smaller than a vast majority of dinosaurs, and so were more mobile and could leverage the smaller species of insects which survived.


I'd be more inclined to think that a combination of small size and propensity to eat carrion might have contributed to the bird like dinosaurs success. Still doesn't explain why the small dinosaurs which were not bird like did not survive when the bird like dinosaurs did.
yep
1 / 5 (1) Jul 30, 2014
"Still doesn't explain why the small dinosaurs which were not bird like did not survive when the bird like dinosaurs did."
Mammals being voracious egg eaters take advantage of animals who do not guard or conceal their nests well, may be part of the answer.

Defaithed
3 / 5 (2) Jul 31, 2014
"Evolution" is the world's biggest made up story today.


You tell 'em! Ain't no way I came from no monkey!

I came from the incestuous grapplings of a single boat family after an impossible flood, themselves the descendants of the incestuous children of a dust man and a rib woman who were duped into eating magic fruit by a talking snake despite the prohibition of a shrimp-hating sky fairy.

Now THAT's a story I can believe in!

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