Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Britain: a dinosaur melting pot?

News yesterday of a study that shows Britain to be home to one of the most diverse set of dinosaurs in the world.

It was a review study, which found 108 different species of dinosaurs had been discovered in Britain. Of course, It's not as if such a variety was intermingling all at once. The Mesozoic era (the dinosaur heyday) spanned 180 million years - although the article posits a 135 million year span for those dinosaurs identified in the review.

The originating article stresses that Britain was a final land bridge before North America finally separated from Europe (and Asia) - according to the article, that split happened at about the end of the Mesozoic (and the dinosaur) era.

Yet, as is pointed out, Britain has the longest history of research and exploration. Given global discoveries to date can only be scratching the surface of the extant fossil record, I imagine this contributes an amount of bias to the outcome of the study. However, that's not to deny the significance of a (relatively narrow) land bridge in the mixing of what could by then have been two rather distinct populations.

The work was published by the Geological Society of London, by academics at the University of Portsmouth. Of note, one of the authors is Darren Naish, who writes the always-interesting Tetrapod Zoology blog.


Darren Naish said...

Hi Stephen, thanks for your interest. When I spoke to journalists about this research, I emphasized that Britain's good dinosaur record was due to three things; (1) a particularly long history of research and interpretation; (2) an exceptionally good Middle Jurassic and Lower Cretaceous record (these two spans of time are poorly represented elsewhere in the world); and (3) a genuinely diverse fauna. From the articles, it looks like points 1 and 2 didn't make it through. Oh well. All the best.

S Simmonds said...

Hi Darren,

Interesting to hear your comments; it's all too common for journalists to reprocess a story to the detriment of significant detail. In the nature of the profession, I guess.

Your first point is the issue of sampling bias; the third may relate to the location of Britain as the Grand Central (or Victoria) Station of dinosaur movement.

Your second point makes me wonder, though. Not another aspect of the history of sampling (paleontology)? Might it have something to do with the geology of the island - particularly conducive to sedimentary formations?

Love your blog. I just don't find enough blogs given over to evolutionary and natural history issues. You might notice I've been largely tied up with mammals lately - ever since my attention was drawn to that non-volant New Zealand mammal fossil. I hope to get around to Gondwanatherians sometime, although there seems to be much uncertainty surrounding them...