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Egg-laying, Not Environment, May Explain the Size and Downfall of Dinosaurs 123

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the similar-factors-influencing-american-waistlines dept.
ananyo writes "Paleontologists have argued that dinosaurs were able to grow quickly and fuel large bodies when temperatures were warm, oxygen levels were high, and land masses such as the supercontinent Gondwana provided abundant living space. But two new studies contradict that idea and suggest the key to some dinosaurs' vast size lies in the limitations of egg laying. In the first study, researchers examined whether changes in body size followed changes in environmental factors and found no correlation. A second study argues that the reason dinosaurs grew so large was because they were forced to produce relatively tiny young (abstract only), as developing embryos would not be able to breathe through the thick shells of large eggs. When the young of large animals start out small, they must grow through a large size range before reaching adulthood. As a result there was intense competition between small and medium-sized dinosaurs, forcing adults to keep growing until they reached very large sizes to gain a competitive edge. But being big also had drawbacks. When an asteroid impact 65 million years ago wiped out most large-bodied animals, there were so few small dinosaur species that the group was almost obliterated, with only the birds surviving."
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Egg-laying, Not Environment, May Explain the Size and Downfall of Dinosaurs

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  • Circular reasoning? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Black Parrot (19622) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @09:31AM (#39722107)

    When the young of large animals start out small, they must grow through a large size range before reaching adulthood. As a result there was intense competition between small and medium-sized dinosaurs, forcing adults to keep growing until they reached very large sizes to gain a competitive edge.

    IOW, dinosaur species had to be big, because young dinosaurs of big species had to become big?

    • by PrescriptionWarning (932687) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @09:34AM (#39722127)
      The small dinosaurs probably got eaten, so the thought would be that the bigger dinosaurs live long enough to breed and they would beget bigger dino's as well else they would die, and so on. Circle of life would be the circular reasoning you're thinking of.
      • by Black Parrot (19622) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @09:38AM (#39722175)

        I think the actual implication would be that big dinosaurs had to produce vast numbers of young, so that enough of them would survive to become full-sized adults.

        Also, "the little ones get eaten" would apply to small species of dinosaurs - and mammals. (Unless most predators preferred the taste of chicken to the taste of beef.)

        • by mcgrew (92797) * on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @10:02AM (#39722383) Homepage Journal

          I RTFA and it looks like hogwash to me. It said that the adults had to be big to keep from being eaten by their own young. It seems to me that cannibalism would be an evolutionary disadvantage, plus the biggest dinos were herbivores. And I notice that most large animals today are herbivores -- elephants, cows, rhinos.

          Perhaps the article was poorly written, but it doesn't seem logical. The only logical part was that the larger animals became extinct when the asteroid hit.

          • by Luckyo (1726890) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @10:09AM (#39722455)

            Cannibalism is a distinct evolutionary advantage when there is too few resources to support population that has to birth a lot of young to ensure at least some of them survive to adulthood.

            It's commonly practised among many species that fall within this umbrella to this day.

          • by gnick (1211984) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @10:27AM (#39722635) Homepage

            It seems to me that cannibalism would be an evolutionary disadvantage...

            In order for a species to survive, an animal only needs to survive long enough to produce children who can survive long enough to produce their own. Once you're old enough to survive to the point of reproduction, how does snacking on a parent hurt anything? In fact, if the parent isn't providing anything that helps you survive, you're just having a meal and cutting down on competition.

            "It's people! You're eating PEOPLE!"

            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by Anonymous Coward

              There are multiple problems with this rationalization:

              • If it takes a dinosaur 30 years to reach breeding maturity, and it can have a brood every 2 years after that, for the next 30 years, the mother that is devoured by her young will have a single successful brood. The other mother wil have 15 broods (likely a mix of successful and unsuccessful). Which mother has a likelier chance of producing more, healthy offspring?
              • Modern-day saurians are not eaten by their young.
              • Dinosaurs would need to lay many, many mo
          • by s_p_oneil (795792)

            "I RTFA and it looks like hogwash to me."

            Well, what do you expect from a science where no direct observations can be made, no experiments can be performed, and all of your theories are based on fossils millions of years old? While I wouldn't say the study of subjects like this are a waste (things can still be learned from them), these theories have to be taken with more than the usual number of grains of salt.

            IMO every set of theories on a subject like this is built up from the bottom like a house of cards.

            • Yeah, right - because "In the beginning God .... " is such a logical framework.

              Or, are you more of a 'turtles all the way down' sort of guy?

          • by formfeed (703859)

            I RTFA and it looks like hogwash to me. It said that the adults had to be big to keep from being eaten by their own young.

            You don't have kids?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      No, it's called a positive feedback loop. You know, evolutionary arms race. You know, evolution. Evolution has the advantage of being dependent on time and space, making mathematical logic completely irrelevant to how nature actually works.
      • by ananyo (2519492) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @10:13AM (#39722499)

        Right! Essentially, as the source story says, dinosaurs ended up competing with their own young in a way that mammals didn't. Mammals were able to occupy all niches - ie niches appropriate for small and medium sized animals, while adult dinos had to keep getting larger and larger to keep their competitive edge. The two papers are pretty neat and work well together - one shows the traditional hypothesis isn't right (environment doesn't correlate to dino size), the other suggests a credible reason why.

      • Evolution has the advantage of being dependent on time and space, making mathematical logic completely irrelevant to how nature actually works

        That's silly. The GP was just oversimplifying the situation. That mistake hardly makes mathematical logic irrelevant to evolution or nature.

        If you had a valid point, what was it?

    • by SailorSpork (1080153) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @09:47AM (#39722263) Homepage
      I read another article that kind of explains this better. The gist is that as dinosaurs grow up, they need to develop through several different kinds of ecosystems, young occupying an ecosystem of smaller fauna, medium of slightly larger fauna, and so forth, competing for similar resources. Because the existing dinosaurs had established themselves and crossed all ecosystems at some life phase or another, that was the status quo. When the asteroid hit and changed the status quo, mammals (which didn't grow through different fauna-sized ecosystems and better adapted to their own niches) were better able to compete for the same resources in the smaller- and middle- ecosystems, thus crowding out the slow-growth dinosaurs. It took an asteroid hitting the reset button on the global population for this to happen... dinosaurs didn't die overnight, they just never re-established themselves afterwards as well as the smaller species like mammals, smaller lizards, birds etc did.
      • Still sounds like unnecessarily convoluted logic. There's no reason the young of big dinosaurs wouldn't be able to compete with smaller species as well as they had before.

        A simpler explanation would be that post-KT there wasn't an ecosystem to support the huge adults, and when the environment won't support adults the whole species dies.

        I think the summary is just making too much of the relevance of the articles to extinction.

        • There's no reason the young of big dinosaurs wouldn't be able to compete with smaller species as well as they had before.

          Unless of course the adults were interfering with the others to make their own young more able to compete.

          Though that doesn't jibe with the "because they had to compete with their own young" line.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          A simpler explanation would be that post-KT there wasn't an ecosystem to support the huge adults, and when the environment won't support adults the whole species dies.

          I think the idea is, when you are born small (category A ecosystem), than grow mid-size (category B ecosystem) than very-large (category C), you need all these different ecosystems intact in order to achieve a full circle. And you need those 3 categories to coexist in relative close proximity, if not at the same location.

          When you are born category A and remain category A, you only need a category A ecosystem to survive and category B/C ecosystems don't matter at all.

          So let's say a big event, destroyed part

        • IANAP, but the whole premise seems convoluted, not to mention it seems to ascribe some sort of evolutionary goal to the dinosaurs. Isn't the reason any animal is the way it is just random mutation that either helps or doesn't hurt? It would seem to me like a dinosaur became big through such a mutation. What would be good about being big? You can overcome aggressors and rivals for mates. You can better protect your young. Those seem like simpler explanations for why the bigness cycle would continue with ani
          • by SEWilco (27983)

            In the case of homo sapiens, the species seems to already have a gene that makes it want to gang up and kill any member who looks different so such a mutation would hardly be viable.

            They're quite viable. We put them on sports teams and give them an increased chance to succeed.

            • True. They have also been observed to procreate prodigiously. I stand corrected. We probably are evolving into a race of giant super athletes.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Sort of. All those tiny brachosaur babies were tough competition to all other small dinosaurs. And since all dinosaurs had to start small, the niche of 'being small' was hopelessly overpopulated, so they grew big to occupy another niche.

    • by virg_mattes (230616) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @09:59AM (#39722371)
      No, the point is that bigger specimens of smaller dinosaurs had an advantage over the average, so there was environmental pressure driving larger animals to survive. Therefore, as the bigger dinosaurs bred more than their smaller siblings, the average size of their young went up, reinforcing their advantage until truly huge specimens became the norm.

      Virg
      • No, the point is that bigger specimens of smaller dinosaurs had an advantage over the average, so there was environmental pressure driving larger animals to survive. Therefore, as the bigger dinosaurs bred more than their smaller siblings, the average size of their young went up, reinforcing their advantage until truly huge specimens became the norm.

        Now that actually makes sense, though as others have pointed out, why didn't the same apply to mammals?

        • With their higher body temp, the energy requirements for supporting a large mammal can become quite impractical. There's a reason for the expression 'eat like a horse.'
          • by anyanka (1953414)

            Aha, but how many dinosaurs were actually cold-blooded? The current ones certainly aren't, they run hotter than mammals (though they are certainly also tiny compared to some of the huge ones of the past).

      • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

        No, the point is that bigger specimens of smaller dinosaurs had an advantage over the average, so there was environmental pressure driving larger animals to survive. Therefore, as the bigger dinosaurs bred more than their smaller siblings, the average size of their young went up, reinforcing their advantage until truly huge specimens became the norm.

        Virg

        Actually, there is no proof that bigger specimens of smaller dinosaurs had an advantage over the average. Being bigger may also mean being slower. Being slower would mean less likely to capture food (if a hunter) or more likely to be captured (if hunted). In addition, what may work to the advantage of one species may not be to another. It simply is not possible to make a blanket statement that bigger specimens of smaller dinosaurs had an advantage over the average ones.

    • by ByOhTek (1181381)

      The explanation was extremely poor. Hopefully this is less poor.

      Start with this factor: eggs have to be small. If they are too large, the short of it is, the oxygen/volume ratio in the egg will get too low.
      Now, consider that all of the large species started as eggs. Therefore their young start small.

      Now, they have to compete with the smaller and medium sized creatures to become large. To reduce the time-frame of this competition, they have to grow fast, to grow fast they have to use a lot of resources. Resu

      • Less poor, but actually sounds like an environmental pressure to favor small species rather than large ones - the opposite of what the articles seem to be saying.

        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          Has anyone noticed that humans are getting larger? When I was 20, average height for men was 5 foot nine, now it's six feet.

          When food is plentiful, animals get larger, since size keeps one from being easily eaten. When food is scarce, large animals starve while small animals survive, since a small animal dosn't need much food.

          • by dietdew7 (1171613)
            Exactly. I weighed less than 10 lbs when I was young and now I'm over 180.
            • While you would be big in Japan at 180, I would be "Huge" in Japan at 275! Like Godzilla.

              And just like these dinosaurs, that simple fact alone makes me better than you. I blame your "low" weight on your name, dietdew7.

          • It's a side effect of all the antibiotics in the meat. Continued low-level doses of antibiotics cause mass increase. That's still in the meat you eat, so you've got the same low-level antibiotic exposure.

            • by mcgrew (92797) *

              I suspect it has something to do with some of the hormones they feed beef, like bovine growth hormone. But when I was in Thailand in 1974, I was a gaint compare to the Thais, who ate hardly any meat; their dists consisted mostly of rice. A couple of years ago we had a Thai intern who was as tall as me, and she said that's normal for them now. Not evolution, of course, but diet.

              However, if there's a severe scarcity of plants for an extended period (like after the ateroid strike), larger herbivores are going

          • Has anyone noticed that humans are getting larger? When I was 20, average height for men was 5 foot nine, now it's six feet.

            No, it's not. Average height for a human male is about 5'10" in the USA. Worldwide, it's shorter than that...

            Human height has increased somewhat since the 19th century, mostly due to better childhood nutrition.

        • by ByOhTek (1181381)

          No, the argument is actually against small species, because that's where all the competition was. Butt hey had to start small - so they tried to jump through that phase quickly. Once you are larger, the competition with the smaller species is reduced. It's only once being larger became unfavorable, that they had issues.

    • I bet this would have been a hot topic of discussion around the Triceratops carcass. Which came first, the Dinosaur or the Egg? Who knew the T-Rex was such a philosopher.

      Probably came about from pondering why the fuck they were born with such short arms.

      • by Black Parrot (19622) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @10:07AM (#39722437)

        Probably came about from pondering why the fuck they were born with such short arms.

        Couldn't reach a conclusion?

        • by Chris Burke (6130)

          T-Rex had tiny arms to compensate for the increased weight of its gigantic murder-maw.

          It had arms at all because they helped it stand up (and maybe other uses). Skeletons show both many more muscle attachment points than would be needed for vestigial arms, and stress marks from bearing the weight of its body. Its arms were tiny, but very strong.

    • by FrootLoops (1817694) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @10:38AM (#39722771)

      As near as I can tell, the argument is...

      Premises:
        (1) Dinosaurs had some initial size diversity due to environmental factors
        (2) Egg sizes were limited because thick shells would be air tight
        (3) Egg-laying dinosaurs went through large size variances as they grew to adulthood (compared to mammal-scale)

      Reasoning:
        * Because of (1), (2), and (3), a particular species would occupy a broader environmental niche, eg. with small juveniles going places adults couldn't reach
        * Increased niche breadth would cause species to interact and compete more with other species
        * Increased competition results in a size arms race since larger animals get food more, which incidentally increases niche breadth all the more
        * The process doesn't continue indefinitely since large sizes eventually hit environmental constraints, though "steady-state" sizes would be larger in egg-laying dinosaurs than eg. mammals. Birds have strong environmental reasons to stay small that tend to overcome increased competition.

      [If you're a biologist, preferably one who has read the paper, please correct me if I'm wrong. The Nature article is pretty vague and I can only read the abstract of the journal article.]

    • by Artifakt (700173) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @11:52AM (#39723487)

      If the size of the eggs themselves has a limit, then all dinos start out small, regardless of how big they end up

      There are risks in being a growing animal: Until the creature settles down to its adult size, it has to adapt to different food sources, learn over and over again how to move efficiently at each new size, and expose itself to predators foraging for food. Growing animals are awkward at some stages, and need more food, more often than when they finish growing.

      Triple your size in a year and get it over with, those risks are proportionately small. Double over and over again every six weeks, and those risks are much larger.

      So, there needs to be some advantages once you get big, to offset the disadvantages of the growing years. If a species has more disadvantages than competitors, and doesn't have advantages, it dies out from the competition. But the advantages of growing bigger than a competitor species accumulate with very large sizes:

      For example, there's not much advantage to being just a little larger than a pack hunter such as Deinonychus, but if, like Apatosaurus, you're so large your hide is thicker than the packs 6" killing claws and so tall the pack can't even reach your vital spots, the advantage is your adult species members are practically totally immune to Deinonychus attacks. To eat you, Deinonychus doesn't just have to evolve to be a little taller, it has to evolve in the direction of T-Rex.

      There are other trends in dino evolution: By the time smaller, early fast predators actually get to T-Rex size descendants, all the Apatosaurus like dinos are gone, and horned and armored herbivores take their places. Bulk can only do so much, and it's hard to see how anything could simply get big enough to ignore a pair of T-Rexes attacking it. But these biologists aren't saying that the trend towards bigness overwhelmed all other factors, just that it was a more major cause of more effects than is immediately obvious.

      You can call all this circular reasoning. The biologists are in effect arguing that the advantages and disadvantages must have pretty well balanced in each stage of evolutionary history, because natural selection must work as the theory. But there are other, non-circular, lines of thought which support this. Reducing Darwin to "Survival of the Fittest" is tautological, but when you use actual math on the actual fossils, and look at how many different species in different size groups there were, over the millions of years leading up to the extinction event, you get non-circular predictions as well, like that number of different species would taper off for the last few million years before the extinction, and that it would be lower by far than for most typical dinosaur eras.

      .

    • by squiggleslash (241428) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @03:55PM (#39726921) Homepage Journal

      Not so much circular reasoning as a description of an unsustainable feedback loop.

      It's kind of like the American car market. As one soccer mom replaces her station wagon with a larger one, followed by an SUV, followed by a larger SUV, she forces other soccer moms to do the same thing, as those left with the slightly smaller model of SUV or station wagon finds themselves at a competitive disadvantage on the same roads, being unable to see past the rival Canyonero in front of them.

      Eventually the group of soccer moms is unable to diversify by having multiple sizes of vehicles, which means that when a megadisaster, such as a massive rise in oil prices, occurs, the group suffers considerably more than they would have done. The species dies out, as one by one their homes are foreclosed upon, and groups that previously lived in the shadows of these groups - cyclists, Democrats, Prius drivers, etc, gain the upper hand.

      That's how it works.

  • by satuon (1822492) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @09:35AM (#39722139)

    > there were so few small dinosaur species that the group was almost obliterated, with only the birds surviving

    Yes, but why didn't those few non-bird species survive? Or did they mean that birds were the only small dinosaur species?

    • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @09:45AM (#39722245)

      Also, why didn't those small juvenile dinosaurs just grow up and repopulate the world?

      It's not like there would have been a shortage of them post-asteroid. If anything, the juveniles would have had an unusual edge, since they were growing up into a vacuum where the big predators used to be.

      • by Zocalo (252965) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @10:22AM (#39722585) Homepage
        The big misconception about the asteroid theory is that there was a big impact and all the dinosaurs died out pretty much immediately, but this does not actually seem to be the case. The actual extinction appears to have taken quite some time, with the larger land based lifeforms being the ones that were the most likely to die out.

        That seems to make quite a bit of sense to me; an big asteroid impact would throw a lot of dust into the atmosphere, so a prolonged period of cooling would likely result. That could reasonably be expected to lead to a significant reduction in the available foliage for consumption by herbivores, leading to the larger herbivores being the first to starve to death. Fewer herbivores, means less meat for the carnivores, so the big predators are the next to find that the larder has suddenly gone dry, and down the chain it goes.

        The most likely survivors in that scenario are those that can survive on meagre food supplies and digest more of what is available; if you can eat branches and the trees are bare, those of your competitors that require more succulent fare are going to have a harder time of things. Similarly, those species that relied more on stealth/cunning than just sheer numbers to survive would have have more of their preferred diet to go around and/or be more likely to avoid predation.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Timtimes (730036)
        I got this one. The larger dinosaurs were dependent on larger trees and vegetation that takes longer to repopulate after the asteroid hit than their life cycles would allow. The growth cycle of a tree is many orders of magnitude slower then reptiles. So at first there would still be a lot of small babies of big (dead) dinosaurs to compete with the smaller dinosaurs (that evolved into birds?) from the short grasses that would emerge post fireball. The large bodied dinos would ultimately die when they got
        • by Chris Burke (6130)

          So at first there would still be a lot of small babies of big (dead) dinosaurs to compete with the smaller dinosaurs (that evolved into birds?) from the short grasses that would emerge post fireball.

          Birds evolved well before the KT event. The dinosaurs that were still dinosaurs at the time simply died out.

          Good points btw.

      • by samoanbiscuit (1273176) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @11:33AM (#39723247)
        What the papers say is that dinosaurs went through different size classes throughout their lives that caused them to compete in different ecological niches. Because their whole life cycle was dependent upon two or more different ecosystem places (eg, tiny dinosaur stage A eats small plants, medium dinosaur stage B eats shrubs, and huge ass dinosaur stage C eats lots and lots of swamp ferns and tree leaves). So if any of these niches were disturbed due to the meteor event, the life cycle could not complete itself into adulthood, and thus the dinosaurs wouldn't be able to mate and repopulate the continents... So if the meteor event killed lots of large trees (that would take decades if not centuries to grow back) then adult dinosaur sized herbivores were screwed, repercussions echo up the food chain, etc. In modern times, large african and asian mammals are very vulnerable to habitat loss and climate change in ways small animals are not.
      • by urusan (1755332)

        The juveniles of existing large dinosaur species would have starved when they grew too large due to the lack of foliage for the herbivores. As they were juveniles, they would not have reproduced until they grew to adulthood, and thus they would have starved before reproducing. Ironically, if they were better "designed", then they could have survived in smaller forms until the time was right again. Instead, only the dinosaur species with the smallest adult forms survived.

        As for smaller dinosaurs/birds, who i

    • by devitto (230479)

      Using the same reasoning: The birds were able to fly, and only the flying dinosaurs lived.

      Dom

      • Using the same reasoning: The birds were able to fly, and only the flying dinosaurs lived.

        Then why didn't non-flying mammals die?

        "small && ( mammal || flies)" doesn't really make a lot of sense.

    • Of course there's plenty of reptiles who actually pre-date the dinosaurs who still survive today Crocodiles for Instance.
  • Economics (Score:1, Interesting)

    Sounds like the ultimate free market.
    • Sounds like the ultimate free market.

      Yes, every meal was "all you can eat".

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      They forgot to hire lobbyists to convince the government they were "Too big to fail."

  • If he really exists, then he's an idiot.

    • by Black Parrot (19622) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @09:42AM (#39722211)

      If he really exists, then he's an idiot.

      Clearly, the dinosaur god couldn't compete. It's down to the human god vs. the beetle god now.

      • by Krneki (1192201)
        There is no such things as dinosaurs. It's the fabrication of a delusional mind. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Young_Earth_creationism [wikipedia.org]
        • by ixnaay (662250)
          I followed your link, and read the following, which is incredibly depressing:

          When asked for their views on the origin and development of human beings, between 40% and 50% of adults in the United States say they share the beliefs of young Earth creationism, depending on the poll. The percentage of believers decreases as the level of education increases—only 22% of respondents with postgraduate degrees believed compared with 47% of those with a high school education or less.
    • Well if you are going to bring theology into it. You could argue that God Created Dinosaurs, to keep the Mammals down and small, until after the asteroid hit, so we would then evolve into what we are now. If we to be designed to be made in his image, then there are particular circumstances that needs to happen to do that. Yes I am using Intelligent Design Theory to explain this, so don't consider this argument science. However your argument is that if God Exists then he's an idiot, is not based on scien

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        I'd say to the GP "You're calling an entitty who is intelligent enough to design and build math, physics, time, and the entire universe an idiot? Only an idiot woud say something so stupid. To think that a mere human could understand the motives of a being that powerful is the very height of idiocy".

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Does nobody read the summaries before posting them? According to the reasoning shown in summary, we should be seeing adult sparrows in the 40+ ton range, because they're 'forced to produce such tiny young'.

    • by Black Parrot (19622) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @10:02AM (#39722387)

      Does nobody read the summaries before posting them?

      Yes, nobody reads everything.

    • Any non flying bird is at a serious competetive disadvantage to birds that do fly unless its some niche ecosystem such as new zealand with few competitors or they've learned to "fly" underwater , eg penguins. Sure, ostriches are fairly big , but they haven't exactly taken over the world have they?

      • by flirno (945854)

        It would probably have trouble breathing too.

      • Any non flying bird is at a serious competetive disadvantage to birds that do fly unless its some niche ecosystem such as new zealand with few competitors or they've learned to "fly" underwater , eg penguins. Sure, ostriches are fairly big , but they haven't exactly taken over the world have they?

        Note that for ten or so million years after the asteroid, the dominant land animals were...great big non-flying birds.

      • by Chris Burke (6130)

        Google "Terror Bird". :)

  • by Grayhand (2610049) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @10:20AM (#39722561)
    I've read much of this before and it still seems pointless. People keep trying to explain how dinosaurs were such poor survivors yet they are by far the most successful large terrestrial species the planet has seen. The egg thickness theories have nothing to do with dinosaurs suddenly disappearing. The only thing it really explains is why dinosaurs had to have such a rapid growth rate. They ranged in size from around the size of a chicken to nearly the size of a Blue Whale with the largest eggs being not much larger than an Ostrich egg and the smallest on pare with a chicken egg. Those conditions existed for tens of millions of years before their extinction so egg size and shell thickness couldn't have been a factor in their extinction. Mammals also didn't suddenly change towards the end of their reign so it's unlikely that they suddenly found dinosaurs and their eggs tasty. The mammals driving dinosaurs into trees is silly since birds had been around for tens of millions of years before their extinction and T-Rexs didn't suddenly decide they had to climb trees. Birds were better at exploiting the nitch than the flying reptiles. Like most extinction events it's complicated and other than the meteor impact there aren't any smoking guns. Odds are it was climate change than was the death blow to the ones that survived the impact. The more interesting fact is the only species that survived were either small so they needed less food or they were able to go for long periods without eating like Alligators. Odds are most starved to death since some were even cold adapted and survived in higher latitudes than even alligators so the freezing theory wouldn't explain all the deaths. Ultimately the best explanation is starvation brought on by climate change caused by a meteor strike. Odds are it was that simple.
  • The gowns (usually from Ivy League Geo departments) who bitterly fought the Alvarez asteroid theory failed but next proposed that the dinos were already stressed out and headed for extinction when the asteroid hit. Now this...ugh, will they never give up?
  • How does this theory account for the megafauna? The giant sloth, the american lion, etc.
    • by netsavior (627338)
      Well for starters this has nothing to do with mega mammals, they practically happened on a different planet. The space rock hit. Then 64.5 million years of flora and fauna happened. Then the American Lion came. Then, 11,000 years ago they died out.
      • "Then, 11,000 years ago they died out."

        Quite likely with a little help. Hunting may not have been enough to wipe them out alone, but it was at least a contributing factor.
  • What was first, the chicken, the egg or the dinosaur?
  • So... they're saying dinosaurs grew so large for the same reason men buy Hummers?
  • by mapkinase (958129) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @10:46AM (#39722845) Homepage Journal

    I like this phrase. As long as people understand a difference between "explanation", "fact" and "possible explanation", the science is in a good shape

  • by hemo_jr (1122113) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @10:56AM (#39722921)
    Dinosaurs probably had a dual air sac respiratory system like birds do today. This respiratory system allows continuous oxygenation of the lungs, unlike mammals who breath in and out. This is a very robust system and may be the reason that early dinosaurs out-competed early mammals et al and established a dominance in the Triassic that continued until Chicxulub.

    We already know that terrestrial arthropods, like insects, are limited in size by a combination of the O2 concentration in the air and the tracheal respiratory system (a network of tubes...). So it would not be surprising that a highly effective dual air sac respiratory system could be efficient enough to make the trade-offs for increased size more advantageous for dinosaurs than mammals.

    Therefore, for dinosaurs, increasing size to compete may have been more evolutionary advantageous than for mammals. And that is why dinosaurs grew so big.
  • I am certainly not a paleontologist, but it seems to me that there is evidence of a filter :

    Birds (air-mobile) - mostly survived. My understanding is that there wasn't even that big a restriction in the number of species.

    Dinosaurs (not air-mobile) - entirely wiped out.

    This, to me, indicates that there was some sort of premium on air mobility. Maybe there were enormous tsunami's, and you had to be aloft to survive.

    • by anyanka (1953414)

      Land-locked mammals probably had trouble competing in the same niche as birds. Probably why birds are still hugely successful (some species even thrive sharing territory with highly competitive humans). Non-flying birds are restricted to rather unusual habitats (like Antarctica, New Zealand, ...), so there must be something to be said for good, old-fashioned mammals as well.

      Note that birds have rather high energy requirements (high body temperature, and flying is expensive), so that may be why they lose out

It is wrong always, everywhere and for everyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence. - W. K. Clifford, British philosopher, circa 1876

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