According to a new study, dinosaurs may have been thriving and even producing new species before the deadly asteroid hit the Earth around 66 million years ago that took them all out. This is rather surprising news as some previous studies reported that dinosaur species were actually declining prior to their extinction.
The team of experts from the University of Bath and the Natural History Museum analyzed different dinosaur family trees in order to find out whether or not they were producing new species instead of just focusing on the number of species per family. They were able to determine that certain species like ceratopsians and hadrosaurs were in fact thriving prior to their extinction.
In a statement, lead author of the study, Joe Bonsor, explained their research in further detail, “Previous studies done by others have used various methods to draw the conclusion that dinosaurs would have died out anyway, as they were in decline towards the end of the Cretaceous period.” “However, we show that if you expand the dataset to include more recent dinosaur family trees and a broader set of dinosaur types, the results don't actually all point to this conclusion – in fact only about half of them do.”
The team believes that the reason why previous studies have suggested that dinosaurs were on the decline was because of the difficulties involved with studying fossils such as how well they were preserved and where they were located.
For example, in a different study that was conducted last year by researchers from Imperial College London, University College London, and University of Bristol, they focused on the theory that dinosaurs were declining because of climate change. Additionally, they focused their study on North America and they found that dinosaurs could have thrived in different locations across the continent but the fossils may not have been preserved over time.
Since a lot more fossils were unearthed in the western part of the continent – especially where the Rocky Mountains are located – that would indicate that the eastern areas had less than ideal conditions for the fossils to remain well preserved. This may explain why previous studies suggested that dinosaurs were declining because not as many fossils were found, specifically in the east.
Bonsor went on to say, “The main point of our paper is that it isn't as simple as looking at a few trees and making a decision – the large unavoidable biases in the fossil record and lack of data can often show a decline in species, but this may not be a reflection of the reality at the time.”
With that being said, it seems as though dinosaurs would have continued to thrive and dominate the Earth for many more years had the asteroid not wiped them out 66 million years ago.
Their study was published in the journal The Royal Society Open Science where it can be read in full.