Evolutionary biologists use two ways to study the evolution of prehistoric plants and animals: firstly they use radioactive dating techniques to put fossils in chronological order according to the age of the rocks in which they are found (stratigraphy); secondly they observe and classify the characteristics of fossilised remains according to their relatedness (morphology).
Dr Matthew Wills from the University of Bath’s Department of Biology & Biochemistry worked with Dr Paul Barrett from the Natural History Museum and Julia Heathcote at Birkbeck College (London) to analyse statistical data from fossils of the four major groups of dinosaur to see how closely they matched their trees of evolutionary relatedness.
The researchers found that the fossil record for the dinosaurs studied, ranging from gigantic sauropods to two-legged meat eaters such as T. rex, matched very well with the evolutionary tree, meaning that the current view of evolution of these creatures is very accurate.
Dr Matthew Wills explained: “We have two independent lines of evidence on the history of life: the chronological order of fossils in the rocks, and ‘trees’ of evolutionary relatedness.
“When the two tell the same story, the most likely explanation is that both reflect the truth. When they disagree, and the order of animals on the tree is out of whack with the order in the rocks, you either have a dodgy tree, lots of missing fossils, or both.
“What we’ve shown in this study is that the agreement for dinosaurs is remarkably good, meaning that we can have faith in both our understanding of their evolution, and the relative completeness of their fossil record.
“In other words, our knowledge of dinosaurs is very, very good.”
The researchers studied gaps in the fossil record, so-called ‘ghost ranges’, where the evolutionary tree indicates there should be fossils but where none have yet been found. They mapped these gaps onto the evolutionary tree and calculated statistical probabilities to find the closeness of the match.
Dr Wills said: “Gaps in the fossil record can occur for a number of reasons. Only a tiny minority of animals are preserved as fossils because exceptional geological conditions are needed. Other fossils may be difficult to classify because they are incomplete; others just haven’t been found yet.
“Pinning down an accurate date for some fossils can also prove difficult. For example, the oldest fossil may be so incomplete that it becomes uncertain as to which group it belongs. This is particularly true with fragments of bones. Our study made allowances for this uncertainty.
“We are excited that our data show an almost perfect agreement between the evolutionary tree and the ages of fossils in the rocks. This is because it confirms that the fossil record offers an extremely accurate account of how these amazing animals evolved over time and gives clues as to how mammals and birds evolved from them.”
The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Sytematic Biology, was part of a project funded by the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) that aimed to combine different forms of evolutionary evidence to produce more accurate evolutionary trees.
Press Team | alfa
Atomic-level motion may drive bacteria's ability to evade immune system defenses
24.04.2017 | Indiana University
Two-dimensional melting of hard spheres experimentally unravelled after 60 years
24.04.2017 | University of Oxford
More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.
Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...
Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.
"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
03.04.2017 | Event News
24.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.04.2017 | Materials Sciences
24.04.2017 | Life Sciences