Dinosaurs already in decline before asteroid apocalypse
The findings provide a revolution in the understanding of dinosaur evolution.
Palaeontologists previously thought that dinosaurs were flourishing right up until they were wiped out by a massive meteorite impact 66 million years ago.
By using a sophisticated statistical analysis in conjunction with information from the fossil record, researchers at the Universities of Reading, UK and Bristol, UK showed that dinosaur species were going extinct at a faster pace than new ones were emerging from 50 million years before the meteorite hit.
he analyses demonstrate that while the decline in species numbers over time was effectively ubiquitous among all dinosaur groups, their patterns of species loss were different.
For instance, the long-necked giant sauropod dinosaurs were in the fastest decline, whereas theropods, the group of dinosaurs that include the iconic Tyrannosaurus rex, were in a more gradual decline.
Dr Manabu Sakamoto, University of Reading, the palaeontologist who led the research, said: "We were not expecting this result. While the asteroid impact is still the prime candidate for the dinosaurs' final disappearance, it is clear that they were already past their prime in an evolutionary sense." ■