Researchers: If Meteorite Hit 13 Million Years Earlier, Dinosaurs Might Still be Around
October 30, 2012 2:19 PM
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Research shows that pre-extinction disruption of food webs makes ecosystems more fragile, susceptible
, a Ph.D. student on the
University of Chicago
's Committee on Evolutionary Biology,
California Academy of Sciences
have collaborated to produce a fascinating simulations-based analysis of the factors that helped dinosaurs go extinct
at the close of the Cretaceous era.
The authors used a food web program they wrote, which looked at dozens of species. They looked to lay to rest debates about dinosaurs' diet (e.g. did
eat Triceratops, Duck-Billed dinosaurs, or a mixture of both?) by carrying out a number of simulations with each possibility considered. A total of 17 food webs, based on species alive at the time, were inspected
What they found was that the precise diet of dinosaurs mattered less than the relative diversity of one ecosystem versus another. Comments Professor Angielczyk, "Using modern food webs as guides, what we have discovered is that this uncertainty is far less important to understanding ecosystem functioning than is our general knowledge of the diets and the number of different species that would have had a particular diet."
The researchers suggest that
in the Cretaceous led to a number of changes, including the drying of a sea in North America. The net result was
a loss of diversity
Lower food web diversity made the dinosaurs more vulnerable to mass-extinction a new study claims. [Image Source: PNAS]
This meant that while the ecosystem was still flourishing, it was respectively more fragile than its equivalent, 13 million years before the meteorite impact at Chicxulub on the Yucatan Peninsula. Comments Mr. Mitchell, "The ecosystems collapsed because of the asteroid impact, and nothing in our study suggests that they would not have otherwise continued on successfully. Unusual circumstances, such as the after-effects of the asteroid impact, were needed for the vulnerability of the communities to become important."
In fact, the authors argue that the dinosaurs would likely
the calamity, had the meteorite hit 13 million years earlier, during the period of greater diversity.
If the meteorite hit 13 million years earlier, the dinosaurs might not have gone extinct.
[Image Source: D. Davis]
The authors say their analysis provides cautionary hints to help assess current ecosystems for vulnerability. States Professor Rooparine, "Besides shedding light on this ancient extinction, our findings imply that seemingly innocuous changes to ecosystems caused by humans might reduce the ecosystems' abilities to withstand unexpected disturbances."
However, the authors are also careful to note that their study did not indicate more
was a significant safeguard; rather they argue it's the amount of genetic diversity across species that's important -- in other words, saving a lot of similar species may not help as much as conserving
species that play unique roles
in the ecosystem.
The study was
in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled
10/30/2012 4:46:20 PM
it is an interesting hypothesis using computer modeling
nothing more..nothing less.
it is true, according to fossil records, that there was already some stress on the ecosystems.. but the very nature of the impact makes it hard to ignore that with even a robust ecosystem such a large creature as the dinosaur would have survived.
RE: an interesting..hypothesis
10/30/2012 6:36:55 PM
How can we assume larger creatures would've survived it better when what we do actually have today that survived are small lizards, turtles and other small reptiles, birds, insects, etc?
RE: an interesting..hypothesis
11/1/2012 12:24:34 PM
The "air" was different then, supporting larger critters than could breathe our oxygen ratio today. Also, for each hit on the food pyramid, the next critter up the ladder takes a bigger hit because they're dependent on it for food. If there is little diversity (small menu) than the hit is even worse. Sort of like taking a forest and turning it into a cow padsture. You will still find the bugs and some small mammals, but fewer and fewer of the larger mammals.
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