Despite global warming having a negative effect on many animals, one ancient dinosaur species actually thrived because of it. As a matter of fact, a new study has indicated that a gigantic volcanic eruption led to the evolution of long-necked herbivorous dinosaurs.
Sauropods are considered to be the first group of herbivorous dinosaurs that could grow as tall as 40 meters (131 feet) and weighed as much as 80 tonnes. While sauropods were known for their extremely long necks, they didn’t always have them. In the first 50 million years of their existence, their necks were rather short and their bodies were quite a bit smaller, measuring 10 meters in height (almost 33 feet). Additionally, they would have eaten soft vegetation because of their skinny teeth.
Scientists believe that a huge volcanic eruption in the Southern Hemisphere about 180 million years ago caused a significant change in the Earth’s climate that affected vegetation. This dramatic event caused the smaller sauropod species to die out and it was only the large ones that were able to survive the climate and vegetation changes – they were called eusauropods.
A newly discovered eusauropod species that lived about 179 million years ago has been identified by paleontologists in Argentina and they have named it Bagualia alba. The long-necked, quadrupedal, herbivorous species thrived from the Early Jurassic to the Late Cretaceous periods. Actually, the Bagualia alba is the oldest known eusauropod that’s ever been found.
Dr. Diego Pol from the Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio and CONICET as well as his colleagues from Argentina, United States, and Germany, further explained the evolution of these dinosaurs, “Sauropodomorpha is the first major dinosaurian group that diversified into multiple herbivorous lineages recorded throughout the world.” “The first 40 million years of sauropodomorph evolution are characterized by the coexistence of diverse lineages with great disparity in body size, feeding biomechanics and locomotion types, ranging from small (less than 10 kg or 22 lbs) bipedal species to the large (greater than 5 tons) quadrupedal early sauropods.” “By the Middle Jurassic, eusauropod dinosaurs were the only surviving sauropodomorph lineage.”
Researchers analyzed dinosaur fossils (that included a partial skull and cervical vertebrae) from at least three Bagualia alba individuals that were found in Bagual Canyon in the Cañadón Asfalto Basin that’s located in the Patagonia region of South America. The enamel on the teeth from these evolved dinosaurs were seven times thicker than their ancestors which proved that they were able to eat and digest hard vegetation unlikely their soft-vegetation-eating relatives before them.
The study concludes that global warming and vegetation changes caused by a massive volcanic eruption caused these dinosaurs to evolve into gigantic creatures with extremely long necks. (An image of what the Bagualia alba would have looked like can be seen here.) The research was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences where it can be read in full.