Study reveals dinosaurs were in their prime ahead of asteroid strike but ‘stable ecology hindered survival’

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The study showed that despite dinosaurs being in their prime, the shift in smaller mammal habits may have hindered their survival after the asteroid event.

A landmark new study has found that despite theories to the contrary, that dinosaurs were actually thriving and in their prime when an asteroid struck, wiping them off the face of the planet. The study, published in the journal Science Advances, brought together an international team of palaeontologists and ecologists to study 1,600 fossil records from North America.

The research modelled the food chains and ecological habitats of land-living and freshwater animals during the last several million years of the Cretaceous period, and the first few million years of the Paleogene period after the asteroid hit. It showed that the dinosaur population was thriving before the asteroid struck the area now known as the Gulf of Mexico, but that their dietary habits may have led to their ultimate extinction.

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Though information that many small mammals coexisted with dinosaurs is nothing new, the research showed that those mammals diversified their diets and adapted to their environments, becoming pivotal parts of the ecosystem at the beginning of the Cretaceous period. This behaviour gave those mammals a better chance of surviving the extinction event, while dinosaurs were well adapted to a stable, albeit niche ecosystem.

“It seems the stable ecology of the last dinosaurs actually hindered their survival in the wake of the asteroid impact, which abruptly changed the ecological rules of the time,” said co-lead author Dr Alfio Chiarenza.

Senior author Professor Steve Brusatte, of Edinburgh University, explained that “dinosaurs were going strong, with stable ecosystems, right until the asteroid suddenly killed them off.”

“Meanwhile, mammals were diversifying their diets, ecologies and behaviours while dinosaurs were still alive. So it wasn’t simply that mammals took advantage of the dinosaurs dying, but they were making their own advantages, which ecologically pre-adapted them to survive the extinction and move into niches left vacant by the dead dinosaurs.”

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The study concluded that though the dinosaur population was thriving and in their prime as a species, the changes in the ecosystem coupled with the asteroid strike made survival for the dinosaurs a struggle due to the sudden change in the atmosphere and environment. The study also raises the question how long dinosaurs would have survived for had the ecosystem not have evolved as it did.

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