Rise of the dinosaur may have been fueled by earlier mass extinction event

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When it was alive, this large, crocodile-like reptile lurked in the swamps and rivers of the Triassic — a time period spanning from about 252 to 201 million years ago. These armor-plated beasts could grow up to 30 feet long and used their toothy snouts to snap up prey in land and water. They even feasted on early dinosaurs for dinner.   

What happened next is a blur in Earth’s history that [Randy] Irmis and a band of extinction detectives are trying to piece together. It’s a crucial period when the dinosaurs transformed from the underdogs phytosaurs ate for dinner to the thundering, planet-ruling creatures we remember them as today. It’s known as the End Triassic mass extinction.

Related article:  Global temperature modeling suggests dinosaurs were wiped out by asteroid strike

“At the end of the Triassic, temperatures increase probably two to three times,” says [researcher Celina] Suarez. “So we probably went from an increase between 3 and 6 degrees Celsius over the course of the Triassic extinction.” 

In this warmer, post-apocalyptic, post-phytosaur world, the scene was set for a new dominant species to rise. Newly empty ecological niches allowed primitive dinosaurs to move their way up. And while the former reigning terrestrial beasts of the Triassic couldn’t handle the change in climate, the dinosaurs had evolved traits that helped them adapt.

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