SciSun: Islands in the Stream   1 comment

During the Late Cretaceous Period – from about 100 million to 66 million years ago – the land we know as North America was not the single area we find today, but a series of large islands (or small continents) that correspond, roughly, to what’s now the far western Pacific coast, and portions of the Midwest-to-north Eastern seaboard. Much of the land that would become the Rocky Mountains was underwater; Florida was a shallow sea; and Texas couldn’t boast about how big it was, because it was a whole lot smaller. Not only was the land different than anything we would recognize; so were the species that lived on the land and in the waters. It was the Age of Dinosaurs!, and no matter what we think we know about these giant reptiles (or have seen in the movies), there’s always more to learn – including entire groups of dinos no one had any idea existed, until recently.

Nasutoceratops titusi translates as “big-nose horned face”. It’s also the name of a new species of dinosaur recently found in South-Central Utah. (We hope it’s also not what some of the young dinosaurs called each other. That’s just mean). Within what today is the largest National Monument in the United States – the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM) – scientists have discovered fossils of over a dozen large, plant-eating dinosaurs along with evidence of other plant and animal species that thrived in what was once a lush tropical environment. While the GSENM is over 1.9 million acres, that’s still a lot of species discovered in a relatively small area; particularly as the GSENM represents just a section of what was the island-continent of Laramidia, the Cretaceous landform were scientists estimate there may have been more than two dozen species of giant dinosaurs living 100 million years ago. In the field of Paleobiology – the study of life from the ancient past – finding any new species is rare, yet nearly all the dino fossils discovered in this small part of Laramidia are new species. In fact, finding so many large dinosaurs within one area is quite the mystery as larger ‘big-bodied’ animals use more resources and it just seems logical there should only be enough food and space for a limited number of these largest of creatures. Today, there are only five big-bodied species of mammal on the entire continent of Africa – and Africa is four times larger than the entire Laramidia island-continent of 100 million years past.

Thank you Ron Blakey; NAU Geology';  University of Utah;  Natural History Museum of Utah

Much of the world under the oceans, one hundred million years ago. Also, the future effects of global warming.

So what’s with the different types of dinosaurs, and why and how did they all manage to live together in harmony? Even without smooth jazz to listen to? The Dinosaur Provincialism Hypothesis states that while many closely-associated species may have been restricted to a comparatively small area and potentially co-existed through over-lapping periods of time, the actual species who inhabited any specific space probably only existed for a relatively short time before the species disappeared or evolved into an entirely new species. For example, a species of three-spiked dinosaur 75 million years ago was displaced by the ‘newer’ species of five-horned dino from ‘only’ 70 million years ago. It’s as if evolution was making adjustments and changes to find the best solution for species success. But what were the challenges and risks of this portion of the Laramidian environment that caused so many evolutionary experiments; particularly many that apparently didn’t succeed? (Or rather, ‘only’ were successful for a few million years. Which is far longer than man has been around).

That’s the question scientists from the Natural History Museum of Utah, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, the Bureau of Land Management, and many other organizations are researching and what they find could impact how we live and use our resources, today. Sadly for the dinosaurs (and lucky for us, or else we might be running from T-Rexes on our daily commutes), the Cretaceous was the last major period the dinosaurs existed. About 66 million years ago the dinos, and much of the other life on earth, disappeared in a mass extinction event that still hasn’t been fully understood; particularly as it seems the dinosaurs were doing so well, what with the many variations in new species and all.

If the giant – and hugely successful dinosaurs – were able not only to live, but thrive and even evolve into different species to better use their environment, what can man learn about how we use our resources, and the decisions we make that affect our future? And if the dinosaurs became extinct despite their evolutionary changes, what knowledge should humanity gain from fossils yet to be found, and the stories of what were once the most successful animals that ever lived.


Michonne Says: What’s a “million”? Is it more than 100? Marmots can count to 100. After that it’s too many for anyone to keep track of. 100 should be enough for anyone.

Posted October 6, 2013 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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One response to “SciSun: Islands in the Stream

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  1. I agree with Michonne. 100 should be enough for anyone.

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