Reseachers found that climate change and slower evolution drove the Ichthyosaurs to extinction.
Ichthyosaurs were giant marine reptiles that lived at the same time as the dinosaurs. All of the species of the group disappeared tens of thousands of years before the end of Cretaceous Period. Researchers were baffled at how to find out why ichthyosaurs were wiped out from the surface of the Earth. The cause of their extinction remained a mystery for scientists.
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Now, an international team of researchers beleive they may shed more light on what happened to these prehistoric reptiles. Researchers have found a link between climate change and the demise of Ichthyosaurs. They suggest that large reptiles were driven to extinction by intense climate change and their inability to adapt to the conditions quickly enough.
“We analyzed the extinction of this crucial marine group thoroughly for the first time. We compared the diversity of Ichthyosaurs with the geological record of global change, emphasizing the dynamics of these datasets,” said lead researcher Dr Valentin Fischer from University of Liège, Belgium.
“Ichthyosaurs were actually well diversified during the last chapter of their reign, with several species, body shapes and ecological niches present. However, their evolution was much slower than earlier in their history. Additionally, they were seemingly negatively affected by the profound global changes going on during the Cretaceous, as their extinction rate correlates with environmental volatility.”
Linking climate change to the extinction of a large group of animals seems illogical and difficult to prove as well since researchers cannot relate it with an obvious geological or geochemical event such as large meteorite or volcanic eruption.
Until now, most scientists theorized that ichthyosaurs went extinct because of increased competition with other marine predators and decline in source of food.
However, using cutting edge technologies, researchers were able to reconstruct the evolution of Ichthyosaurs during the last 120 million years of their lifetime and tried to determine the causes of their demise.
Researchers found that ichthyosaurs were highly diverse both in terms of body shape and ecology. In the Late Cretaceous period, about 100 million years ago, seas were much warmer than today. The higher temperatures suppressed their ecological diversity and contributed to the extinction of giant marine reptile. It turned out that disappearance of Ichthyosaurs is an aspect of a larger event.
“Although the rising temperatures and sea levels evidenced in rock records throughout the world may not directly have affected ichthyosaurs, related factors such as changes in food availability, migratory routes, competitors and birthing places are all potential drivers, probably occurring in conjunction to drive ichthyosaurs to extinction."
The study was published Tuesday in journal Nature Communications.
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