Rev­o­lu­tion­ary new re­search may mean we have to re­draw the di­nosaurs’ fam­ily tree

BBC Earth (Asia) - - Update -

From green coun­try­side to a nice bag of fish ’n’ chips, the Bri­tish have plenty to be proud of. Now, there’s an­other thing to smile about: di­nosaurs may have orig­i­nated in what is now Britain. A team at the Univer­sity of Cam­bridge has un­cov­ered ev­i­dence that the pre­his­toric beasts could have evolved from a com­mon an­ces­tor – the Sal­to­pus, which is a small Scot­tish spec­i­men pre­vi­ously con­sid­ered to be in­signif­i­cant.

The some­what con­tro­ver­sial find­ing stems from the re­searchers’ con­clu­sion that the ba­sic cat­e­gories used to clas­sify dinosaur species need to be re­assessed. The pre­vi­ous in­car­na­tion of the dinosaur fam­ily tree was drawn up by Bri­tish Palaeon­tol­o­gist Harry Govier See­ley back in the

late 19th Cen­tury. He ini­tially split dinosaur species into two main groups based on the struc­ture of their hip­bones: the lizard-like pat­tern of the Sau­rischia, and the bird-like pat­tern of the Or­nithis­chia. As more di­nosaurs were de­scribed, See­ley split the Sau­rischia into two sub­groups: the sauropodomorphs, which in­cluded Di­plodocus, and the theropods, which in­cluded the T. rex.

In the new anal­y­sis, the Cam­bridge team says or­nithis­chi­ans and theropods be­long in the same group (called Or­nithoscel­ida) and the sauropodomorphs in an­other.

“When we started our anal­y­sis, we puz­zled as to why some an­cient or­nithis­chi­ans ap­peared anatom­i­cally sim­i­lar to theropods. Our fresh study sug­gested that these two groups were in­deed part of the same clade. This con­clu­sion came as quite a shock since it ran counter to ev­ery­thing we’d learned,” said lead re­searcher Matthew Baron.

If cor­rect, the study would make the Sal­to­pus a can­di­date for the com­mon an­ces­tor of Or­nithis­chia and Sau­rischia, per­haps mean­ing that di­nosaurs first walked the Earth in what is now Scot­land.

ABOVE: Kulin­dadromeus is one dinosaur that will have to be re­clas­si­fied, ac­cord­ing to the new in­for­ma­tion

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