The Tyrannosaurus rex in Jurassic Park bit right through a Ford Explorer. But what about the real dinosaurs? It turns out that T. rex really had jaw power to make up for those useless little arms. They chewed through the bones of their prey, which is unusual even among dinosaurs.
Bone crushing—extreme osteophagy in the scientific parlance—is a trait exhibited by just a handful of…
The dinosaur family tree just got a makeover. One outcome is a conclusion that meat-eating evolved twice in dinos (in groups represented by Tyrannosaurus rex, bottom middle, and Staurikosaurus, right). So did traits associated with plant-eating (groups represented by Brontosaurus, left, and Triceratops, top middle).
The standard dinosaur family tree may soon be just a relic.
A new study proposes redrawing that tree. Its authors argue that this made sense after examining more than 400 body traits.
The long-accepted tree of dino relationships has two main branches. Each contains critters familiar even to the non–dinosaur obsessed.
One branch leads to the “bird-hipped” ornithischians (Or-nih-THISH-ee-uns). This group includes the plant-eating duckbills, stegosaurs and Triceratops. Another branch contains the “reptile-hipped” saurischians (SOR-ish-ee-uns). That group is further divided into two smaller ones. There are the plant-eating sauropods (typically four-legged, like Brontosaurus). And then there’s the meat-eating theropods. (They are typically two-legged, like Tyrannosaurus rex and modern birds.)
Harry Seeley first proposed this split between bird-hipped and reptile-hipped dinos in 1887. The British paleontologist had noticed that the pelvis of every dino had one of these two shapes. At some point, he reasoned, the earliest dinos must have diverged into these two groups. Other scientists accepted the idea, and then strengthened it in the 1980s. It essentially has been dogma ever since.
Now a group of researchers has re-examined dinosaur anatomy with fresh eyes. And they come to a very different conclusion — and tree.
Matthew Baron is a paleontologist in England. He works at the University of Cambridge and Natural History Museum in London. His team started with a mix of fossils, photos and descriptions from scientific papers. The researchers pored over the anatomy of more than 70 different dinosaurs and close non-dino kin. Overall, they compared 457 aspects of their anatomy. They tallied the presence, absence and types of features. These might include the shape of a hole on the snout or a cheekbone ridge. Those data…
The standard dinosaur family tree may soon be just a relic.
After examining more than 400 anatomical traits, scientists have proposed a radical reshuffling of the major dinosaur groups. The rewrite, reported in the March 23 Nature, upsets century-old ideas about dinosaur evolution. It lends support to the accepted idea that the earliest dinosaurs were smallish, two-legged creatures. But contrary to current thinking, the new tree suggests that these early dinosaurs had grasping hands and were omnivores, snapping up meat and plant matter alike.
“This is a novel proposal and a really interesting hypothesis,” says Randall Irmis, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum of Utah and the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Irmis, who was not involved with the work, says it’s “a possibility” that the new family tree reflects actual dinosaur relationships. But, he says, “It goes against our ideas of the general relationships of dinosaurs. It’s certainly going to generate a lot of discussion.”
The accepted tree of dinosaur relationships has three dominant branches, each containing critters familiar even to the non–dinosaur obsessed. One branch leads to the “bird-hipped” ornithischians, which include the plant-eating duckbills, stegosaurs and Triceratops and its bony-frilled kin. Another branch contains the “reptile-hipped” saurischians, which are further divided into two groups: the plant-eating sauropods (typically four-legged, like Brontosaurus) and the meat-eating theropods (typically two-legged, like Tyrannosaurus rex and modern birds).
This split between the bird-hipped and reptile-hipped dinos was first proposed in 1887 by British paleontologist Harry Seeley, who had noticed the two strikingly different kinds of pelvic anatomy. That hypothesis of dinosaur relationships was formalized and strengthened in the 1980s and has been accepted since then.
The new tree yields four groups atop two main branches. The bird-hipped ornithischians, which used to live on their own lone branch, now share a main branch with the reptile-hipped theropods like T. rex. This placement…
Life on Earth is likely facing its sixth mass extinction. The UN Environment Programme estimates that 150 to 200 species of plant, insect, bird or mammal become extinct every day – about 1,000 times the “natural rate,” according to some biologists.
So how can we stop extinction?
One solution scientists have been developing for decades is de-extinction — the process of resurrecting extinct species through genetic engineering. The idea was made popular when an ancient mosquito with a bellyful of dinosaur DNA enabled the resurrection of a Tyrannosaurus rex in 1993’s Jurassic Park. But now that de-extinction could soon be a viable option for biodiversity conservation, some researchers are saying it could threaten extant endangered species.
“On one hand, we can bring back the dead and right past wrongs,” study co-author Joseph Bennett, a conservation biologist at Carleton University in Canada, said to Popular Science. “On the other hand, there are many species going extinct every year, and our resources to help save them are severely limited.”
The study predicts how much money it would take to conserve a handful of resurrected species by looking at the real conservation costs of similar endangered species in New Zealand and New South Wales. Even though the estimates didn’t factor in the costs of actually resurrecting the species, the study found that conserving resurrected species would be significantly more expensive than conserving endangered species.