Brief review of dinosaur studies and perspectives in Brazil.
Dinosaur research is developing at very high rates around the world resulting in several new discoveries that are improving our understanding of this terrestrial reptilian clade. Except for the last couple years, the studies of Brazilian dinosaurs have not followed this expansive trend, despite the high potential of several dinosaur localities. So far there are only eight described taxa, four in the last year, representing theropod, sauropod, and one possible prosauropod taxa. Except for footprints, there are no records of ornithischian dinosaurs in the country what is at least partially explainable by the lack of continuous vertebrate fossil collecting program in the country. More funding is necessary to improve the research activities in this field. (+info)
Dinosaurs, dragons, and dwarfs: the evolution of maximal body size.
Among local faunas, the maximum body size and taxonomic affiliation of the top terrestrial vertebrate vary greatly. Does this variation reflect how food requirements differ between trophic levels (herbivores vs. carnivores) and with taxonomic affiliation (mammals and birds vs. reptiles)? We gathered data on the body size and food requirements of the top terrestrial herbivores and carnivores, over the past 65,000 years, from oceanic islands and continents. The body mass of the top species was found to increase with increasing land area, with a slope similar to that of the relation between body mass and home range area, suggesting that maximum body size is determined by the number of home ranges that can fit into a given land area. For a given land area, the body size of the top species decreased in the sequence: ectothermic herbivore > endothermic herbivore > ectothermic carnivore > endothermic carnivore. When we converted body mass to food requirements, the food consumption of a top herbivore was about 8 times that of a top carnivore, in accord with the factor expected from the trophic pyramid. Although top ectotherms were heavier than top endotherms at a given trophic level, lower metabolic rates per gram of body mass in ectotherms resulted in endotherms and ectotherms having the same food consumption. These patterns explain the size of the largest-ever extinct mammal, but the size of the largest dinosaurs exceeds that predicted from land areas and remains unexplained. (+info)
Influence of rotational inertia on turning performance of theropod dinosaurs: clues from humans with increased rotational inertia.
The turning agility of theropod dinosaurs may have been severely limited by the large rotational inertia of their horizontal trunks and tails. Bodies with mass distributed far from the axis of rotation have much greater rotational inertia than bodies with the same mass distributed close to the axis of rotation. In this study, we increased the rotational inertia about the vertical axis of human subjects 9.2-fold, to match our estimate for theropods the size of humans, and measured the ability of the subjects to turn. To determine the effect of the increased rotational inertia on maximum turning capability, five subjects jumped vertically while attempting to rotate as far as possible about their vertical axis. This test resulted in a decrease in the average angle turned to 20 % of the control value. We also tested the ability of nine subjects to run as rapidly as possible through a tight slalom course of six 90 degrees turns. When the subjects ran with the 9.2-fold greater rotational inertia, the average velocity through the course decreased to 77% of the control velocity. When the subjects ran the same course but were constrained as to where they placed their feet, the average velocity through the course decreased to 65 % of the control velocity. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that rotational inertia may have limited the turning performance of theropods. They also indicate that the effect of rotational inertia on turning performance is dependent on the type of turning behavior. Characters such as retroverted pubes, reduced tail length, decreased body size, pneumatic vertebrae and the absence of teeth reduced rotational inertia in derived theropods and probably, therefore, improved their turning agility. To reduce rotational inertia, theropods may have run with an arched back and tail, an S-curved neck and forelimbs held backwards against the body. (+info)
An analysis of dinosaurian biogeography: evidence for the existence of vicariance and dispersal patterns caused by geological events.
As the supercontinent Pangaea fragmented during the Mesozoic era, dinosaur faunas were divided into isolated populations living on separate continents. It has been predicted, therefore, that dinosaur distributions should display a branching ('vicariance') pattern that corresponds with the sequence and timing of continental break-up. Several recent studies, however, minimize the importance of plate tectonics and instead suggest that dispersal and regional extinction were the main controls on dinosaur biogeography. Here, in order to test the vicariance hypothesis, we apply a cladistic biogeographical method to a large dataset on dinosaur relationships and distributions. We also introduce a methodological refinement termed 'time-slicing', which is shown to be a key step in the detection of ancient biogeographical patterns. These analyses reveal biogeographical patterns that closely correlate with palaeogeography. The results provide the first statistically robust evidence that, from Middle Jurassic to mid-Cretaceous times, tectonic events had a major role in determining where and when particular dinosaur groups flourished. The fact that evolutionary trees for extinct organisms preserve such distribution patterns opens up a new and fruitful direction for palaeobiogeographical research. (+info)
Ascent of dinosaurs linked to an iridium anomaly at the Triassic-Jurassic boundary.
Analysis of tetrapod footprints and skeletal material from more than 70 localities in eastern North America shows that large theropod dinosaurs appeared less than 10,000 years after the Triassic-Jurassic boundary and less than 30,000 years after the last Triassic taxa, synchronous with a terrestrial mass extinction. This extraordinary turnover is associated with an iridium anomaly (up to 285 parts per trillion, with an average maximum of 141 parts per trillion) and a fern spore spike, suggesting that a bolide impact was the cause. Eastern North American dinosaurian diversity reached a stable maximum less than 100,000 years after the boundary, marking the establishment of dinosaur-dominated communities that prevailed for the next 135 million years. (+info)
A genus-level supertree of the Dinosauria.
One of the ultimate aims of systematics is the reconstruction of the tree of life. This is a huge undertaking that is inhibited by the existence of a computational limit to the inclusiveness of phylogenetic analyses. Supertree methods have been developed to overcome, or at least to go around this problem by combining smaller, partially overlapping cladograms. Here, we present a very inclusive generic-level supertree of Dinosauria (covering a total of 277 genera), which is remarkably well resolved and provides some clarity in many contentious areas of dinosaur systematics. (+info)
A theropod tooth from the Late Triassic of southern Africa.
An isolated, large recurved and finely serrated tooth found associated with the prosauropod Euskelosaurus fron the Late Triassic part of the Elliot Formation is described here. It is compared to the Triassic thecodonts and carnivorous dinosaurs and its possible affinity is discussed. The tooth possibly belongs to a basal theropod and shows some features similar to the allosauroids. This tooth is of significance, as dinosaur remains except for some footprints and trackways, are poorly known in the Late Triassic horizons of southern Africa. (+info)
Recreating a functional ancestral archosaur visual pigment.
The ancestors of the archosaurs, a major branch of the diapsid reptiles, originated more than 240 MYA near the dawn of the Triassic Period. We used maximum likelihood phylogenetic ancestral reconstruction methods and explored different models of evolution for inferring the amino acid sequence of a putative ancestral archosaur visual pigment. Three different types of maximum likelihood models were used: nucleotide-based, amino acid-based, and codon-based models. Where possible, within each type of model, likelihood ratio tests were used to determine which model best fit the data. Ancestral reconstructions of the ancestral archosaur node using the best-fitting models of each type were found to be in agreement, except for three amino acid residues at which one reconstruction differed from the other two. To determine if these ancestral pigments would be functionally active, the corresponding genes were chemically synthesized and then expressed in a mammalian cell line in tissue culture. The expressed artificial genes were all found to bind to 11-cis-retinal to yield stable photoactive pigments with lambda(max) values of about 508 nm, which is slightly redshifted relative to that of extant vertebrate pigments. The ancestral archosaur pigments also activated the retinal G protein transducin, as measured in a fluorescence assay. Our results show that ancestral genes from ancient organisms can be reconstructed de novo and tested for function using a combination of phylogenetic and biochemical methods. (+info)