Giant Dinosaurs Shared the Salad Bar
by Sid Perkins
Things got pretty crowded in western North America about 75 million years ago. Back then, the region was an island less than one-third the size of today’s North America but hosted as many as eight species of herbivores that weighed a ton or more—a number unseen in today’s ecosystems and almost unprecedented at any time in the fossil record. Perhaps the dinos were just slow eaters, or maybe the ecosystems were exceptionally productive, researchers thought.
But a new analysis of fossils found in southern Alberta suggests that the giants got along because they ate different things, a trend called “dietary niche partitioning” that didn’t put them in direct competition with each other. In an ecological study broader than any other for dinosaurs of this era, researchers looked at a dozen different aspects of the skulls and jawbones of dinosaurs from 12 groups of species representing three major lineages of megaherbivores: horned ceratopsians (left), duck-billed hadrosaurs (browsing on trees in background at center right), and the group that includes ankylosaurs and nodosaurs (second from left and at right in foreground, respectively).
The analysis showed that each group had a distinct set of characteristics and therefore probably had different food preferences, the researchers report today in PLOS ONE. Surprisingly, the scientists say, even animals from within the same broad group of dinosaurs had diets sufficiently different from their cohorts for them to thrive among large numbers of herbivorous brethren. No throwing elbows at the salad bar, guys.
(read more: Science News/AAAS)
illustration by Julius Csotonyi