New technology reveals how small AND big dinosaurs lived side-by-side
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Posted 04 February 2011 - 08:26 AM
It has long been thought that only the largest dinosaurs stalked certain parts of prehistoric Earth. But advances in technology have now revealed that the terrain was also home to dozens of smaller creatures. Scientists from the University of Manchester used computers to simulate tracks left by dinosaurs in various types of mud.
Dubbed the Goldilocks Effect, they believe that lasting footprints were only created if the soil conditions were just right when compared to the size and weight of the dinosaur.
As dinosaurs ranged vastly in weight - from the 30-ton Brachiosaurus to Compsognathus, which was the size and weight of a chicken - only the heaviest creatures would leave prints in certain mud conditions. Equally, in other areas where the mud was deep and soft, only lighter, nimbler dinosaurs would be able to walk over it and leave prints - larger animals would become stuck and die.
These insights give palaeontologists the chance to re-evaluate the ecosystems which existed more than 100million years ago.
Their findings, published in the journal of the Royal Society Interface, could help to bring ancient environments to life, by showing how a great number of animals can walk over an area, but only a few leave behind tracks.
Hugely significant prehistoric dinosaur track sites - such as Paluxy River, Texas, or Fumanya, Spain - could have been host to a much larger number of dinosaurs and other animals than the tracks themselves show.
Dr Peter Falkingham, from the University’s School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, led a team using detailed computer modelling to recreate the process of large dinosaurs making footprints in different types of mud.
For the first time, they were able to run dozens of simulations in order to systematically change the conditions of the mud.
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