A new study reveals that Dinosaurs died in their prime when a fatal asteroid struck Earth.

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It is well-known that the dinosaur era ended around 66million years ago when an asteroid struck. It is not clear how the species fared when this happened. New research suggests that the dinosaurs didn’t die when they were destroyed, as was commonly believed.

One of the leaders of the study stated that their findings help “understand one of the oldest mysteries of paleontology: Why all the non-bird dinosaurs die, but birds and mammals endure.” The journal published the study. Scientific Advances. Find out more about the discoveries of scientists and the reasons modern humans have emerged from the chaos, while dinosaurs did not.

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A Look at 18 Million Years Ago

The study was conducted by an international team consisting of paleontologists and ecologists who analyzed 1,600 items in the North American fossil record. Using this, they built simulations of food chains and habitats before and after the asteroid strike—the last 18 million years of the Cretaceous period and the first 4 million years of the Paleogene period. Steve Brusatte (University of Edinburgh paleontologist) said, “When the asteroid hit it, it threw everyone into chaos. And dinosaurs couldn’t deal with the sudden change in a world that they were so accustomed too.”

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“Dinosaurs Were Going Strong”

The scientists found that immediately before the asteroid strike, dinosaurs were a robust species—they dominated every ecosystem on the planet. This is in contrast to other studies which found that large, plant-eating dinosaurs called “megaherbivores”, were declining and signaling the slow death overall of dinosaurs. New research suggests that dinosaurs of immense size were being replaced with smaller ones and that they were evolving up to the asteroid impact. “There was always the nagging suspicion that dinosaurs might have been on the way out anyway, during a long-term decline. When the asteroid brought them out of their misery, it seemed like they were.” Brusatte said. “We now know with absolute conviction that dinosaurs existed in stable ecosystems and were strong until the asteroid killed them.”​​

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In World Of Mammals

This new analysis rebutted another common wisdom that said mammals did not do well in the dinosaur era. The study showed that mammals were diversifying and developing even though massive dinosaurs ruled this planet. They already had creatures like didelphodon, which is a large predator of cats, and purgatorius that are small rats-sized. These early relatives may have been humans, as well as modern primates such us humans. 

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Mammals were adapted; Dinosaurs weren’t

This study indicates that mammals weren’t just able to fill the vacuum left by dinosaurs’ deaths. While the dinosaurs were still around, they were developing new diets and behaviors. Brusatte stated that in a sense, early mammals that survived the asteroid impacts were “pre-adapted to post-asteroid Earth.” They were able to eat many different foods and cope with temperature shifts, something dinosaurs couldn’t do.

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They did it!

“Mammals and dinosaurs have the same origin story – they both originated and began to diversify back in the Triassic Period, around 230 million years ago, on the supercontinent of Pangea,” said Brusatte. He said that the two groups went their separate ways from there with dinosaurs pursuing grandeur while mammals being relegated in the shadows. Their fates would remain forever linked. When the asteroid struck, mammals were there. They survived. Ancestors stared down the asteroid.

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