Jurassic World break records – Anthony Martin explains what we would need to create it in real life!! @US_Conversation

Beyond dinosaurs, what would we need to create a Jurassic World?

Anthony J Martin, Emory University

Like many moviegoers this summer, I plan to watch Jurassic World. And because I’m a paleontologist, I’ll cheer for the movie’s protagonists (the dinosaurs) and jeer at the villains (the humans).

But no matter how thrilling this movie may be, one question will plague me throughout: where are the dung beetles?

Dung beetles – which are beetles that eat and breed in dung – would be only one of many ecological necessities for an actual Jurassic World-style theme park.

Yes, cloning long-extinct dinosaurs is impossible. But even if dinosaur genomes were available, the animals couldn’t simply be plopped anywhere.

So for the sake of argument, let’s say an extremely wealthy corporation did manage to create a diverse bunch of dinosaurs in a laboratory.

The next step in building a Mesozoic version of Busch Gardens would be figuring out how to recreate – and maintain – the dinosaurs’ ecosystems. Accomplishing this goal would require a huge team of scientists, consisting (at minimum) of paleontologists, geologists, ecologists, botanists, zoologists, soil scientists, biochemists and microbiologists.

Such a team then would have to take into account countless interacting factors for the dinosaurs’ recreated habitats. And perhaps they could take a page from rewilding efforts that are currently taking place throughout the world.

The issue of food

In a memorable scene from the original Jurassic Park, paleobotanist Dr Ellie Sattler examines an impressive heap of an ill Triceratops’s feces to look for digested remains of a toxic plant.

In the original Jurassic Park, a dinosaur becomes sick after eating a toxic plant.

Here, the filmmakers touched on a key challenge for recreating an environment from a different geologic period. Many modern plants have evolved defenses against herbivores, which include toxins that can swiftly impair any animal that hasn’t adapted to them.

Consequently, a time-traveling Triceratops would be taking a big risk with every visit to its local salad bar. Paleobotanists could try to solve this problem by cataloging fossil plants that lived at the same time as plant-eating dinosaurs, before picking out descendants of those plants that are still around today. Still, plant lists will never be good enough to say whether or not a Triceratops, Stegosaurus or Brachiosaurus ate those plants or if they could eat their descendants.

The same might hold true for carnivorous dinosaurs, which – for all we know – may have been picky eaters. For instance, although some Triceratops bones hold tooth traces of Tyrannosaurus, there’s no way to be sure a genetically engineered Tyrannosaurus would eat an equally inauthentic Triceratops (even if it were organic and free-range).

So despite a century of dinosaur flicks portraying tyrannosaurs and other predatory dinosaurs gratuitously munching humans, one bite of our species – or other sizable mammals – might make them sick. In other words, there’s no accounting for taste.

Animals that do the dirty work

The lack of dung beetles in that same scene with Dr Sattler also may have explained why the Triceratops’s feces were piled so high. We know from fossil burrows in dinosaur coprolites (fossil feces) that dung beetles fed on dinosaur droppings at least 75 million years ago. Similarly, Late Jurassic dinosaur bones from nearly 150 million years ago hold the traces of carcass-eating insects.

Dung beetles cleaned up after the dinosaurs.
Kay-africa/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

This makes sense: wastes, bodies and other forms of stored matter and energy must be recycled in functioning modern ecosystems. Accordingly, to maintain the productivity of these dinosaurs’ ecosystems, animals that perform essential services to the ecosystem would need to be introduced.

These include pollinators, such as bees, beetles and butterflies, as well as seed dispersers, like birds and small tree- and ground-dwelling mammals. Thus Masrani Global – the imaginary corporation tasked with creating Jurassic World – should have added entomologists (insect scientists), ornithologists and mammalogists to the career opportunities page on its mock website.

‘Pleistocene Parks’ a realistic possibility?

Can we learn anything useful from such fanciful reconstructing of long-gone ecosystems, where large animals once roamed? Sure.

In so-called “rewilding” projects, imagination meets real science. These projects, which attempt to restore ecosystems by closely mimicking their previous iterations, often include reintroducing locally extinct animals.

Perhaps the most famous and successful of such rewilding projects began just after the release of the original Jurassic Park.

In 1995, wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park. Although admittedly not as exciting as releasing a pack of velociraptors into the woods, the reintroduction of wolves – which had been extirpated from the area earlier in the 20th century – had a dramatic restorative effect.

After the wolves gorged on elk – which, without predators, had overpopulated the region – riverine foliage grew more lushly. This prevented erosion and expanded floodplains, which gave beavers a better habitat to get to work damming rivers.

A similar experiment is taking place in Europe, where increased numbers of large carnivores, such as wolves, bears and lynxes, are reshaping their ecosystems closer to their original states.

Bolstered by these successes, rewilding proponents have even proposed reintroducing elephants, lions, cheetahs and other animals to parts of North America as ecological proxies to mammoths, American lions and American “cheetahs” that lived only a little more than 10,000 years ago in those areas.

Large animals from the Pleistocene Epoch.
Public Library of Science/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

Given the much shorter elapsed time since their extinction, enough similar species today and no need for genetic engineering, a “Pleistocene Park” – Pleistocene being the geological epoch that was about 2.5 million to 11,700 years ago – would be far easier to achieve than a Jurassic World (while also being more alliterative).

So to any corporations out there that are thinking of making such a park, do us a big favor: whatever you do, don’t forget to include dung beetles.

The Conversation

Anthony J Martin is Professor of Practice at Emory University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

The Brontosaurus is back! #NeverForgotten

From Wired:

Scientists Say It’s Time to Reinstate the Brontosaurus

REMEMBER PLUTO? TINY lonely rock orbiting the sun at the edge of the solar system? And then, in 2006, researchers summarily defrocked the little world of its status as a planet. Poof! Gone.

This kind of thing has happened before. Many decades ago, paleontologists similarly decided that there wasn’t enough evidence to support the existence of the beloved Brontosaurus. Instead, they said that the noble thunder lizard was just an Apatosaurus. Poof.

But mourn the Brontosaurus no longer! A team of heroes may have rescued it from paleontological purgatory. By cross-referencing the digitized bones from hundreds of long-necked cousins, a team of European scientists now says that they’ve identified enough unique anatomical details to reinstate the Brontosaurus at the head of its own genus. That’s not all. “The real importance of this paper is this is the first time that this group of sauropods have been analyzed in a big fashion,” says Mark Norell, the top paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Continue reading

Huge, toothless dinosaur finally reconstructed from two skeletons – Deinocheirus mirificus

enigmas

An article in Nature reports on the newly characterized and reconstructed dinosaur Deinocheirus mirificus, which means ‘unusual horrible hands’. A great news article summarizing the study at Christian Science Monitor has more info.

…the largest dinosaur of its type yet found – Deinocheirus mirificus, a 70-million-year-old, 6.4-ton, 36-foot-long creature vaguely resembling a cross between a pumped-up prehistoric Big Bird and the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Scientists have assembled two partial skeletons that together present a nearly complete picture of the animal – once known only by a smattering of shoulder bones and two forearms roughly eight feet long.

The abstract of the study is available at NCBI.

Deinocheirus mirificus – “unusual horrible hands” walking – Deinocheirus mirificus reconstructed based on two almost complete skeletons.

Video: Rediscovering Spinosaurus, the HUGE swimming dinosaur! #science

University of Chicago paleontologist Paul Sereno describes Spinosaurus aegyptiacus, a predator of the Cretaceous Period that had adapted to life in water 95 million years ago. Sereno, his UChicago colleague Nizar Ibrahim, and an international team of associates announced their discovery in the journal Science online, at the Science Express website, on 11 September.

Spinosaurus: BIGGER than T. Rex AND a swimmer!?!?! #science

spino

National Geographic reports on the discovery of the semi-aquatic Spinosaurus aegyptiacus, published in Science.

Floating like a crocodile to stalk prey, the 50-foot-long (15.2 meters) predator bore a massive sail on its back that would have risen from the water like a shark’s fin. The carnivore probably ate fish, ancient crocodiles, and anything else afloat.

“It was the biggest carnivorous dinosaur, butSpinosaurus wasn’t a land animal,” says University of Chicago paleontologist Nizar Ibrahim, a National Geographic Society Emerging Explorer and lead author of the new report. “This was a creature adapted to life in the water.”

New dinosaur, Mercuriceratops, had some sick headgear! #frill

 dinonew

A new dinosaur has been discovered and reported in the journal Naturwissenschaften (The Science of Nature, also the coolest journal name EVER). the new dino is part of the chasmosaurine family and has been given the name, Mercuriceratops. For reference, think about the well-known triceratops, but with a lot more frill. Literally, this new dino has a neck guard and head-gear like no other. The neck protrusion is large and wing-like, which is why the dinosaur was named after the ‘winged’ roman god Mercury (MERCURI-ceratops). Pretty awesome all around! News reporting and illustrations at the Daily Digest news. And the science abstract with lots of jargon that I could not understand here.

“The butterfly-shaped frill, or neck shield, of Mercuriceratops is unlike anything we have seen before,” said co-author Dr. David Evans, curator of vertebrate palaeontology at the Royal Ontario Museum. “Mercuriceratops shows that evolution gave rise to much greater variation in horned dinosaur headgear than we had previously suspected.”

Mercuriceratops is believed to have been around 20 feet long and would have weighed about two tons. It lived about 77 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous Period. Sporting a parrot-like beak and horn protrusions above its eyes, it would have been an herbivorous dinosaur.