Scientists discover what was on the menu of the first dinosaurs – Zoo House News

Scientists discover what was on the menu of the first dinosaurs – Zoo House News

  • Science
  • December 18, 2022
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According to a team of paleobiologists from the University of Bristol, the earliest dinosaurs included carnivorous, omnivorous, and herbivorous species.

By looking at the tooth shapes of the earliest dinosaurs and simulating their tooth function with computer models, experts were able to compare them to living reptiles and their diets. Their findings, published today in Science Advances, show that many groups of herbivorous dinosaurs were originally omnivores, and that the ancestors of our famous long-necked herbivores, like Diplodocus, ate meat. This ability to diversify their diet early in their evolution likely explains their evolutionary and ecological success.

The earliest dinosaurs are puzzling: they were much smaller than their later relatives and were overshadowed by crocodile-like reptiles for most of the Triassic. It is not known how diverse they were in terms of diet and ecology, but scientists do know that something must have happened in the Triassic that allowed dinosaurs to survive and adapt to the Triassic and Jurassic mass extinction events and to become the dominant group for the rest of the Mesozoic world.

lead author dr Antonio Ballell of the University of Bristol said: “Soon after their emergence, dinosaurs show an interesting variety of skull and tooth shapes. This has led paleontologists to suspect for decades that different species were already experimenting with different diets.” They compared them to modern lizard species and tried to deduce what they ate from the similarities in their teeth.

“We investigated this by using a range of computational methods to quantify the shape and function of early dinosaur teeth and comparing them to living reptiles, which feed differently. This included mathematically modeling their tooth shapes and simulating their mechanical responses to biting forces using engineering software.”

Professor Mike Benton, co-author of the study, said: “Using this set of methods, we were able to numerically quantify how similar early dinosaurs were to modern animals, providing solid evidence for our dietary conclusions. Theropod dinosaurs have pointed, curved, and blade-like teeth with tiny prongs that behaved like those of modern monitor lizards. In contrast, the serrated teeth of ornithischians and sauropodomorphs more closely resemble modern omnivores and herbivores such as iguanas.

The study is also innovative in using machine learning models to classify the earliest dinosaurs into different dietary categories based on their tooth shape and mechanics. For example, Thecodontosaurus, the Bristol dinosaur, had teeth that were well-adapted to a plant-based diet.

Professor Emily Rayfield, senior co-author, said: “Our analyzes show that ornithischians – the group that includes many herbivorous species such as the horned dinosaurs, armored ankylosaurs and duckbilled dinosaurs – started out as omnivores. And another interesting finding is that the earliest sauropodomorphs, ancestors of long-necked vegetal sauropods like Diplodocus, were carnivores. This shows that neither of these lineages were ancestral to herbivores, contradicting traditional hypotheses, and that the diet of early dinosaurs was quite diverse .”

dr Ballell concluded: “It appears that one of the things that made the first dinosaurs so special is that they evolved different diets during the Triassic, and we think this may have been key to their evolutionary and ecological success.” “

Dinosaurs ruled the land during the Mesozoic Era until their extinction 66 million years ago. These included huge vegetarian groups like the long-necked sauropods and carnivorous species like Tyrannosaurus rex and its relatives. However, their origins were much more humble, dating back to the Triassic when the first definitive dinosaurs appeared around 235 million years ago.

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Materials provided by the University of Bristol. Note: Content can be edited for style and length.

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