Steve Brusatte says dinosaurs were not special, just lucky

Scientists have a new theory about the rise of the dinosaurs: they think dinosaurs were lucky.

EarthSky’s Lindsay Patterson asked Steve Brusatte, a Ph.D. student at Columbia University and the American Museum of Natural History in New York why scientists say dinosaurs were ‘lucky’?

He said that dinosaurs were lucky enough to survive a mass extinction event at the end of the Triassic period. At the time, they were in direct competition with Crurotarsans, or ancient crocodiles. And compared to the dinosaurs, crurotarsans were more diverse and more adapted, but for some reason, the dinosaurs survived this extinction event and crurotarsans didn’t. You could call that luck, but it ushered in the age of dinosaurs.

What about competition and evolution?

Steve Brusatte said if we were standing in the Late Triassic and someone asked him who would come out on top, he would have bet on the crurotarsans. There must have been a feature that helped the dinosaurs survive, but his study shows that they were not innately superior. So if there wasn’t an unexpected mass extinction event about 200 million years ago, we might not think dinosaurs were so special.

Brusatte said the lesson learned is that evolution is not orderly or predictable, and luck plays a hand as well.

Our thanks to:
Steve Brusatte
Ph.D student at Columbia University
Natural Museum of History
New York, NY

February 15, 2009

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