Dinosaurs: a fossil shows a “different appearance”, according to an expert
The ancient beast once roamed the planet freely with little to no opposition other than the other. They lived 230 to 66 million years ago through three periods called the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous. Species as varied as the herbivorous Diplodocus, the terrifying Tyrannosaurus rex (T rex), and the agile and cunning Velociraptor have all graced the Earth at one time.
The evolutionary prowess and long lifespan of these creatures have amazed scientists for years.
Never in history has an animal made it through such a period of time, with prehistoric descendants such as crocodiles and sea turtles even surviving to the present day.
Now a new study has offered something to explain why dinosaurs may have lived so long.
At the end of the Triassic, there was a period known as the Carnian Pluvial Episode (CPE), which took place 234 to 232 million years ago.
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Before the CPE, the supercontinent of Pangea was dry and arid.
But then the CPE came along with its “mega monsoon climate”, causing global temperature and humidity to rise.
As the BBC Science Focus report exploring the study, “Volcanoes may have aided dinosaur evolution” noted, this changing conditions had a major impact on plant and animal life.
Professor Jason Hilton, co-author of the paper by a team of international researchers, told the publication: “Over the space of two million years, global animal and plant life has undergone major changes, including selective extinctions in the marine realm and diversification of terrestrial plant and animal groups.
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“These events coincide with a remarkable interval of intense rainfall known as the Carnian Pluvial Episode.”
By analyzing sediment and fossil records from northern China, the researchers proposed that volcanic activity may have driven the significant climate change observed during the CPE.
The researchers found that there were four distinct events during the CPE, each driven by pulses of powerful volcanic activity.
These eruptions would have released huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
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This would then have triggered an increase in global temperature and humidity.
The probable source of these powerful eruptions was the large igneous province of Wrangellia – remnants of which are today preserved in North America.
Dr Emma Dunne, a paleobiologist at the University of Birmingham, who was not involved in the study, told Science Focus: “This relatively long period of volcanic activity and environmental change would have had far-reaching consequences for the land animals.
“At that time, the dinosaurs were just beginning to diversify, and it’s likely that without this event they would never have reached their ecological dominance that we see over the next 150 million years.”
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In addition to dinosaurs, the CPE played an important role in the rise of a group of plants known as conifers.
It also had a huge impact on the evolution of ferns, crocodiles, turtles, insects and early mammals.
Dr Steve Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh, who was not involved in the research, said: “Around 232 million years ago the world experienced a burst of rain and became much wetter.
“It was during this time that dinosaurs emerged from their small and humble ancestors and began to diversify.
“Although the evidence is somewhat circumstantial at this point, there is reason to believe that this change from drier to wetter conditions helped trigger the rise of the dinosaurs.”
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He added: “This new study takes the story one step further and implicates large volcanic eruptions as the source of climate change.
“Putting the pieces together, it looks like there was a chain reaction in the Triassic: large volcanoes erupt, they change the climate from dry to wet, and that helps catalyze the spread of dinosaurs.
“It shows how big changes in climate can have big implications for evolution.
“It’s not just that climate change can cause extinctions, but it can also help certain groups thrive and spread.”
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