Fossils from 230 million years ago indicate that climatic zones influenced the distribution of early dinosaurs

The newly discovered dinosaur species Mbiresaurus raathi in Zimbabwean dinosaur fossils Image from: Andrey Atuchin

Scientists at Yale University in the United States have found through a new set of Triassic dinosaur fossils in Zimbabwe that the earliest dinosaurs were concentrated in the temperate zone at the southern end of the supercontinent, Pangea ( or Panconusion ) . The study, recently published in Nature, has raised awareness of the origin and early evolution of Pancontinental dinosaurs.

Previous studies have pointed out that greenhouse climates, pronounced seasonality, and higher atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations form strong arid and wet climate zones in the east and west of the Pan continent. These different climatic zones may have influenced the distribution of early dinosaurs on this supercontinent during this period, as there were few geographical barriers or continental boundaries that affected the spread of animals.

Understanding the distribution of dinosaurs on this supercontinent during the Late Triassic period has been a challenge, though, because scarce fossil samples have made it difficult for researchers to decipher the earliest history of these dinosaurs.

Christopher Griffin and collaborators at Yale University in the United States have discovered a new set of fossils from Zimbabwe dating back to the earliest period of the Late Triassic (Carney period, about 230 million years ago).

This group of fossils includes the oldest known dinosaur in Africa, including the near-complete skeleton of Mbiresaurus raathi, a new taxon of sauropods.

Sauropods were a type of long-necked herbivorous dinosaur. They found that this group of fossils from south-central Africa resembled a group of dinosaur fossils from South America (including Brazil and Argentina) and India, indicating that similar vertebrates were once abundantly distributed in this latitude zone. The distribution of these dinosaurs was found to be associated with climatic barriers,

Griffin and his collaborators argue that the spread of dinosaurs to other parts of the supercontinent waited until these climate barriers eased.

The researchers say climate control influenced the initial composition of terrestrial dinosaurs and other major taxa— such as mammals, turtles, amphibians and reptiles, many of which continue to this day. (Source: China Science Daily Feng Lifei)

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