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Jul 28, 2014 06:22 AM EDT

“Bad Luck” Destroyed Dinosaur Kingdom, Study

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Dinosaurs might have lived through the asteroid strike had it taken place earlier or later in history, according to a University of Edinburgh study.

For the study, researchers used current fossil records and analytical tools to understand the prehistoric creatures' demise, some 66 million years ago, following the 10km-wide asteroid strike in what is now Mexico.

Researchers found that a few million years before the asteroid strike, Earth was facing environmental disturbance including volcanic activity, changing sea levels and varying temperatures. During this period, the dinosaurs' food chain was weakened by a lack of diversity among the large plant-eating dinosaurs including the horned triceratops and duck-billed dinosaurs on which larger beasts preyed.

As a result, dinosaurs were vulnerable and unlikely to survive the aftermath of the asteroid strike.

The devastating asteroid strike triggered tsunamis, earthquakes, wildfires, acid rain, sudden temperature swings and other environmental changes. As food chains collapsed, the devastation would have had wiped out dinosaur kingdom one species after another. The only dinosaurs that endured were those who could fly - which evolved to become the birds of today.

"The dinosaurs were victims of colossal bad luck. Not only did a giant asteroid strike, but it happened at the worst possible time, when their ecosystems were vulnerable. Our new findings help clarify one of the enduring mysteries of science," Researcher Steve Brusatte said in a press release.

"There has long been intense scientific debate about the cause of the dinosaur extinction. Although our research suggests that dinosaur communities were particularly vulnerable at the time the asteroid hit, there is nothing to suggest that dinosaurs were doomed to extinction. Without that asteroid, the dinosaurs would probably still be here, and we very probably would not," said Dr Richard Butler of the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham.

The finding is published in Biological Reviews.

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