Focus-Science and Technology - - DISCOVERIES -

If you were to step into a time ma­chine and head back to the age of the di­nosaurs, you might find it a lit­tle hard to catch your breath. Back then, the Earth’s at­mos­phere con­tained much less oxy­gen than it does to­day. So how did di­nosaurs man­age to lead such ac­tive lives? Re­searchers at Manch­ester Uni­ver­sity think they have the an­swer: di­nosaurs had highly ef­fi­cient bird­like lungs that en­abled them to thrive in the harsh con­di­tions.

Crocodil­ians share a com­mon an­ces­tor with di­nosaurs, and birds are di­nosaurs’ mod­ern-day de­scen­dants. It was thought that some di­nosaurs would have smooth rep­til­ian-like lungs while oth­ers would have more com­pli­cated bird­like lungs. To test this, the team used CT scans to look at the lung cav­i­ties of four species of mod­ern crocodil­ians and 29 bird species, and com­pared their struc­ture with 16 dif­fer­ent di­nosaur species.

They found that all of the di­nosaurs had bird-like lungs, as well as hav­ing ver­te­brae and skele­tal struc­tures that were more sim­i­lar in shape to birds than rep­tiles.

“If even the very first di­nosaurs to evolve had bird-like lungs, this would go some way to ex­plain­ing why di­nosaurs be­came the dom­i­nant an­i­mal species of their time,” said Prof Bill Sell­ers, who took part in the study. “Other an­i­mal groups sim­ply may not have had lungs as well suited to ex­tract­ing oxy­gen from the air. That sim­ple evo­lu­tion­ary dif­fer­ence may have let di­nosaurs rule.”

Lungs sim­i­lar to those of some mod­ern-day birds might have helped di­nosaurs breathe the thin air of the pre­his­toric world

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