Why Big Dinosaurs Steered Clear of the Tropics?
For more than 30 million years after dinosaurs first appeared, they remained inexplicably rare near the equator, where only a few small-bodied meat-eating dinosaurs eked out a living. The age-long absence of big plant-eaters at low latitudes is one of the great, unanswered questions about the rise of the dinosaurs.
And now the mystery has a solution, according to an international team of scientists who pieced together a remarkably detailed picture of the climate and ecology more than 200 million years ago at Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico, a site rich with fossils from the Late Triassic Period.
The new findings show that the tropical climate swung wildly with extremes of drought and intense heat. Wildfires swept the landscape during arid regimes and continually reshaped the vegetation available for plant-eating animals.
“Our data suggest it was not a fun place,” says study co-author Randall Irmis, curator of paleontology at the Natural History Museum of Utah and assistant professor at the University of Utah. “It was a time of climate extremes that went back and forth unpredictably and large, warm-blooded dinosaurian herbivores weren’t able to exist nearer to the equator – there was not enough dependable plant food.”
The study, led by geochemist Jessica Whiteside, lecturer at the University of Southampton, is the first to provide a detailed look at the climate and ecology during the emergence of the dinosaurs. The results are important, also, for understanding human-caused climate change. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels during the Late Triassic were four to six times current levels. “If we continue along our present course, similar conditions in a high-CO2 world may develop, and suppress low-latitude ecosystems,” Irmis says.
Source: @The University of Utah