What was it like in prehistoric times just before the dinosaurs went extinct? (At least, those that didn’t evolve into birds.) It’s a subject that, barring the successful creation of a time machine, we’re unlikely to ever have an entirely certain answer to. Some scientists have long believed that dinosaurs were reaching the end of their period of dominance over the earth; others have taken a more optimistic view. A recent study, however, makes a convincing argument that dinosaurs were, as the saying goes, cut down in their prime.
Writing at the Los Angeles Times, Corinne Purtill has more details on the newly-released paper and its implications. As Purtill writes, the study explores a total of 22 million years’ worth of fossils — 18 million from the Cretaceous period and 4 million from the subsequent Palogene. The study analyzed the food webs of numerous species on the way to reaching the conclusion that dinosaurs were thriving (and eating heartily) right up until the extintion event that ended the Cretaceous.
The paper, titled Shifts in food webs and niche stability shaped survivorship and extinction at the end-Cretaceous, was published earlier this month in the journal Science Advances. The study doesn’t just take dinosaurs into account, either. As its authors write, “Mammals did not simply proliferate after the extinction event; rather, their earlier ecological diversification might have helped them survive.”
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, the study’s lead author, Jorge García-Girón, described the dinosaurs as “masters of their ecosystem” — and pointed to the paper’s findings as having applications to the modern world as well, as numerous ecosystems change dramatically. Sometimes history echoes in unexpected ways.
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