Eodromaeus at the root of the dinosaur family tree
Vexing scientific questions at the dawn of the dinosaur era include what gave them an edge over competitors, and how quickly did they rise to dominance? In Eodromaeus’ day, other kinds of reptiles outnumbered dinosaurs, such as squat lizard-like rhynchosaurs and mammal-like reptiles. The authors logged thousands of fossils unearthed in the valley to find, as Martinez remarked, that "dinosaurs took their sweet time to dominate the scene."Their competitors dropped out sequentially over several million years, not at a single horizon in the valley.In the red cliffs on the far side of the valley, larger plant- and meat-eating dinosaurs had evolved many times the size of Eoraptor and Eodromaeus, but it would be even later when they dominated all land habitats in the succeeding Jurassic and Cretaceous periods."The story from this valley suggests that there was no single advantage or lucky break for dinosaurs but rather a long period of evolutionary experimentation in the shadow of other groups," Sereno said. Other researchers on the paper tracked climate change and other conditions across the layers of the valley. "The dawn of the age of dinosaurs," Martinez remarked, "is coming into focus."Funding sources: The Whitten-Newman Foundation, Island Fund of the New York Community Trust, Earthwatch Institute, Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas, Packard Foundation, Gorden Getty Foundation, National Science Foundation, and the National Geographic Society.