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Surprising Science

Why dinosaurs couldn’t live in modern ecosystems

It would be like exposing them to smallpox.

Paleontologist and geologist Anthony Martin looks at movies, such as Jurassic World, and can’t help but raise his brow. “Despite a century of dinosaur flicks portraying Tyrannosaurs and other predatory dinosaurs gratuitously munching humans, one bite of our species — or other sizable mammals — might make them sick.”

Indeed, we humans — if we ever brought back prehistoric beasts — may have a War of the Worlds‘ effect on people-munching raptors. What’s interesting about this fanciful discussion, though, isn’t necessarily whether we can resurrect dinosaurs (we can’t at this time) — but if we could ever successfully recover a former iteration of an ecosystem.

Even without dinos, scientists are doing it today, though. Often referred to as “rewilding” projects, these endeavors take place when scientists try to “restore ecosystems by closely mimicking their previous iterations, [and] often include reintroducing locally extinct animals.” One notable example includes reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone National Park after they were driven from the land in the early 1900s.

This lack of a predatory presence caused the elk population to spike causing “erosion and expanded floodplains.” So, what about mammoths, which Harvard scientists are currently trying to revive the DNA of? It’s a proposal that would need a lot of collaboration from experts. Indeed, in his article for The Conversationabout resurrecting prehistoric beasts, Martin writes:

Accomplishing this goal would require a huge team of scientists, consisting (at minimum) of paleontologists, geologists, ecologists, botanists, zoologists, soil scientists, biochemists, and microbiologists.

One key issue these kinds of scientists could solve was touched upon quite smartly in the first Jurassic Park film with the ill Triceratops. Recall how paleobotanist Dr. Ellie Sattler looks through the dinosaur’s feces in order to determine whether or not it had digested a toxic plant.

Martin points out that this is a great nod to the evolutionary complications of having millions-of-years-old herbivores eat modern plants. They have evolved over the years to defend themselves against certain plant-eaters. The same issue could be said for the reptilian meat-eaters.

Could the same effect, however, be applied to mammoths?

Read more at The Conversation.

Photo Credit: Ian Gavan/Getty Images


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