Arctic ice and the ecological rise of the dinosaurs

Olsen, Paul E.; Sha, Jingeng; Fang, Yanan; Chang, Clara; Whiteside, Jessica; Kinney, Sean T.; Sues, Hans-Dieter; Kent, Dennis V.; Schaller, Morgan; Vajda, Vivi

Abundant lake ice-rafted debris in Late Triassic and earliest Jurassic strata of the Junggar Basin of northwestern China (paleolatitude ~71°N) indicates that freezing winter temperatures typified the forested Arctic, despite a persistence of extremely high levels of atmospheric Pco2 (partial pressure of CO2). Phylogenetic bracket analysis shows that non-avian dinosaurs were primitively insulated, enabling them to access rich deciduous and evergreen Arctic vegetation, even under freezing winter conditions. Transient but intense volcanic winters associated with massive eruptions and lowered light levels led to the end-Triassic mass extinction (201.6 Ma) on land, decimating all medium- to large-sized nondinosaurian, noninsulated continental reptiles. In contrast, insulated dinosaurs were already well adapted to cold temperatures, and not only survived but also underwent a rapid adaptive radiation and ecological expansion in the Jurassic, taking over regions formerly dominated by large noninsulated reptiles.

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