Rock & Gem

THE THREE FACES OF Tyrannosau­rus rex?


All species of creatures contain variation. But when does variation bleed into differenti­ation and separate identifiab­le species? Within the science of paleontolo­gy, this question has led to “lumpers” versus “splitters.” Lumpers say that plants and animals come in varied forms, but all those varied forms might simply represent variations within a single species. Splitters beg to di er. Rather than one encompassi­ng species, they might split into separate species or subspecies. Such esoteric debates have now engulfed one iconic dinosaur species, Tyrannosau­rus rex.

A group of paleontolo­gists led by freelance researcher Gregory Paul has examined over three dozen specimens of T. rex residing in collection­s worldwide. In an article in the journal Evolutiona­ry Biology, they say they’ve spotted what they believe to be enough variation over time to justify dividing this dino into three separate species: T. rex, T. imperator and T. regina.

Will these “splitters” prevail? Says paleontolo­gist Steve Brusatte (University of Edinburgh, Scotland), “Ultimately, to me, this variation is very minor and not indicative of meaningful biological separation of distinct species.”

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