New research suggests that climate change, rather than competition, played a crucial role in the rise of dinosaurs during the Late Triassic and Early Jurassic periods. The study, led by paleontologists from the Universities of Birmingham and Bristol in the UK, Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) in Germany, and the University of São Paulo in Brazil, reveals that changes in global climate associated with the Triassic-Jurassic mass extinction actually benefited the earliest dinosaurs.
By comparing computer models of prehistoric global climate conditions with data on the distribution of dinosaurs, the researchers found that sauropod-like dinosaurs, known for their long tails and necks and small heads, were able to thrive and expand into new territories as the planet warmed up after the extinction event that occurred approximately 201 million years ago.
Dr. Emma Dunne, who conducted the research while at the University of Birmingham and is now a lecturer in paleontology at FAU, explained that the data suggests dinosaurs were not outcompeted by other large vertebrates but rather limited in their diversity by variations in climate conditions. However, when these conditions changed across the Triassic-Jurassic boundary, dinosaurs were able to flourish.
The findings are surprising because they reveal that sauropods were selective even in the early stages of their evolution, preferring warmer areas and avoiding polar regions. Professor Richard Butler, a co-author of the study from the University of Birmingham, emphasized the importance of climate change in driving the evolution of early dinosaurs. The researchers now aim to use similar techniques to investigate the role of climate in the subsequent 120 million years of the dinosaur story.
Source: University of Birmingham