One of evolution’s greatest success stories is that of the Incredible Shrinking Dinosaur, scientists have revealed.
The reptiles that ruled the world for almost 200 million years never went away. Some of their descendants just got smaller and evolved into birds.
Now researchers have shown that shrinking was key to survival for this group, which became one of the most diverse and abundant families of animals alive today.
Lead scientist Dr Roger Benson, from the Department of Earth Sciences at Oxford University, said: “Dinosaurs aren’t extinct; there are about 10,000 species alive today in the form of birds. We wanted to understand the evolutionary links between this exceptional living group, and their Mesozoic relatives, including well-known extinct species like T rex, Triceratops, and Stegosaurus.”
Small body size may have been a vital difference that helped the ancestors of modern birds remain on Earth after a huge asteroid impact wiped out their larger dinosaur cousins.
The giants were already in steep decline as their size locked them into narrow ecological niches from which they could not escape. However the new study found rapid evolution in body size among the smaller feathered maniraptoran dinosaurs allowed them to become modern birds.