Most bird-like dinosaurs ate plants, new study finds
Updated: 2010-12-22 11:10
Bird-like dinosaurs long believed to be carnivorous predators were in fact plant lovers, with the notable exception of dedicated hunters such as T. rex, United States paleontologists said on Monday.
Lindsay Zanno and Peter Makovicky of the Field Museum in Chicago used statistical analysis to conclude that 90 species of theropod dinosaurs ate a plant-based diet, especially among coelurosaurs, the most bird-like dinosaurs.
The results were in sharp contrast to a widespread belief among paleontologists who say theropod dinosaurs hunted their prey, especially those closest to the ancestors of birds.
"Most theropods are clearly adapted to a predatory lifestyle, but somewhere on the line to birds, predatory dinosaurs went soft," Zanno explained.
Zanno and Makovicky found nearly two dozen anatomical features were statistically linked to direct evidence of plant eating among coelurosaurian dinosaurs, such as the loss of teeth or a long neck.
"Once we linked certain adaptations with direct evidence of diet, we looked to see which other theropod species had the same traits ... Then we could say who was likely a plant eater and who was not," Zanno added.
Through their analysis, the researchers found that 44 theropod species distributed across six major lineages ate plants and that the ancestor to most feathered dinosaurs and modern birds had probably already stopped eating meat some 145 to 65 million years ago.
In light of the large number of plant eaters during that period, the carnivorous diet of T. rex, Velociraptor and other meat-eating coelurosaurs should be viewed "more as the exception than the rule", Zanno said.
"Its time to start seeing these animals in a new evolutionary context," Zanno said.
The study was published in this week's edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
（中国日报网英语点津 Helen 编辑）
About the broadcaster:
Lee Hannon is Chief Editor at China Daily with 15-years experience in print and broadcast journalism. Born in England, Lee has traveled extensively around the world as a journalist including four years as a senior editor in Los Angeles. He now lives in Beijing and is happy to move to China and join the China Daily team.
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