Dinosaur families fled Europe during the Mesozoic period, study shows

While the news might currently be full of stories about people flocking into Europe, it turns out dinosaurs had a different idea.

According to a new study published in Journal of Biogeography, dinosaur families were streaming out of Europe during the Mesozoic Era, between 250 million and 66 million years ago. The study confirms previous theories that found dinosaurs continued to migrate around the world even after the split of the ancient supercontinent Pangea.

“We presume that temporary land bridges formed due to changes in sea levels, temporarily reconnecting the continents,” study author Alex Dunhill , a paleontologist from the University of Leeds, said in a news release. “Such massive structures – spanning, for example, from Indo-Madagascar to Australia – may be hard to imagine. But over the timescales that we are talking about, which is in the order of tens of millions of years, it is perfectly feasible that plate tectonic activity gave rise to the right conditions for such land bridges to form.”

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Credit: University of Leeds

How did researchers reach this conclusion?

For the study, the scientists used the Paleobiology Database, which holds every recorded dinosaur fossils from around the planet. Fossil data for the same dinosaur families from several continents were then mapped for various periods of time, exposing associations that showed movement patterns.

Some areas of the planet, such as Europe, have considerable fossil records from many paleontology digs, while other regions of the planet have been mostly unexplored. To understand this disparity, the study scientists scoured the database for an initial dinosaur family connection between two continents.

The results support the notion that continental splitting unquestionably decreased intercontinental movement of dinosaurs, but it did not totally restrict it.

Remarkably, the study also revealed that all associations between Europe and other continents throughout the Early Cretaceous period (125 to 100 million years ago) were out-going, meaning dinosaur families were leaving Europe, and not coming in.

“This is a curious result that has no concrete explanation,” Dunhill said. “It might be a real migratory pattern or it may be an artifact of the incomplete and sporadic nature of the dinosaur fossil record.”

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Image credit: Thinkstock

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