dinosaur Diplodocus, a genus with huge legs, a long neck and a predilection for plants, would have been one of the largest herbivores in history. Recent research has revealed that the ancestors of the sauropods, of which the Diplodocusmight have had a preference for meat.
Researchers who have studied the teeth of some of the first dinosaurs to roam the Earth say they have discovered telling clues about their diet.
Dr. Antonio Ballell Mayoral, lead author of the research published in Science Advancessaid that unlike omnivores, herbivores and carnivores, each living in the Triassic, their predecessors did not necessarily have the same dietary regimes.
The teeth of the first dinosaurs on Earth indicate their preferred food
“The earliest members of the two main lines of vegetarian dinosaurs were not exclusively herbivores,” said Dr. Antonio Ballell Mayoral.
Ballell and his colleagues detailed how they analyzed 11 teeth from the first dinosaurs, including Ngwevu intelo, a long-necked ancestor of sauropods and Lesothosaurus diagnosticus, a beaked herbivorous dinosaur. Both lived 200 million years ago.
“Teeth can give us good clues as to what an animal is eating because they are the tools with which food is chewed,” Ballell said.
In addition to analyzing the shape and function of the dinosaurs’ teeth, the team created computer models of how stress was placed on each tooth when they bit.
The ancestors of herbivorous dinosaurs fed on meat
The team then fed the results into machine learning algorithms based on the dental characteristics and diets of 47 living reptiles, such as iguanas, geckos, snakes and crocodiles. This allowed researchers to investigate the types of food that early dinosaurs may have eaten.
While Ngwevu head and other early relatives of sauropods were probably herbivores, those that lived even earlier appear to have been carnivores, based on the curved, sharp teeth similar to those of today’s Komodo dragon, as well as how those teeth handled the forces attached feeding.
It also appears that the ancestors of the herbivorous beaked dinosaurs known as straight Ornithischians, a large group that fed on plants, including horned dinosaurs such as The Triceratops and dinosaurs with armor or Stegosaurus, they might have been familiar with the taste of meat. As the authors note, Lesothosaurus diagnosis it had teeth of greater strength than those typical of carnivores, suggesting that while it may have been a herbivore, it is also just as likely to have been an omnivore.
The tendency to be carnivorous is ancient
The dietary diversity of the early dinosaurs was fundamental in their later growth and dominance. That allowed them to adapt to changes in climate and food resources, according to the researchers.
Ballell said that while it was traditionally thought that the first dinosaurs were carnivores, much more recent discoveries have challenged this. However, research from Bristol suggests that the tendency to be a carnivore is probably ancestral.
The diversification of dinosaurs, attributed to the change in diet
Professor Steve Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, who was not involved in the research, described it as groundbreaking, according to The Guardian.
“We have long wondered how the first dinosaurs managed to outlast their rivals and spread throughout the world. This new study uses state-of-the-art methods to study the diet of the earliest dinosaurs in unprecedented detail,” he said.
Professor Brusatte added that “the first dinosaurs were probably carnivores and that different groups of dinosaurs changed their diet over time, and this may have contributed to their diversification.”