When you think of the end of the dinosaurs you likely envision an asteroid striking Earth, creating a massive explosion and plunging the planet into a dark, cold haze from which the mighty creatures had no chance of emerging. New research suggests that the biggest challenge in the history of the dinosaurs might have gone a bit differently if they hadn’t been so darn good at living in the first place.
The study, which was published in Nature Ecology and Evolution, proposes that the incredibly rapid spread of dinosaurs across all of the Earth was actually a major reason for their ultimate fate. The idea being that, because dinosaurs had pushed into every corner of the planet, they had very little room for adaptation which stunted the emergence of new species, and ultimately forced the creatures to become one-trick ponies, so to speak.
“The dinosaurs exploded out of South America in a frenzy of movement to cover the planet. It was during this time that diverse forms evolved and eventually led to species such as the fearsome Tyrannosaurus rex, Archaeopteryx (the earliest bird) and the gigantic, long necked Diplodocus,” lead author Ciara O’Donovan of the University of reading explains. “This honeymoon period could not last forever though, and the dinosaurs eventually filled every available habitat on Earth.”
When that happened, the various dinosaur species gradually stopped exploring and became very, very good at living in their own specific areas. Over many generations, the creatures may have lost their ability to adapt, and a lack of new species hampered the progress of the dinosaurs as a whole.
“There was nowhere new for species to move to, which may have prevented new species from arising, contributing to the dinosaurs’ pre-asteroid decline,” O’Donovan says. “In essence, they were perhaps too successful for their own good.”
Then, when the asteroid struck, the planet changed almost overnight. Species which had known nothing but one way of living for millions of years were suddenly forced into an unfamiliar world of darkness and cold. Needless to say, the vast majority of dinosaurs simply couldn’t deal with the change and were wiped off the face of the Earth.