There are various hypotheses about why dinosaurs succeeded in the Triassic-Jurassic transition and why the crocodile-line did not enjoy the same success on land. The DAWNDINOS logo depicts the struggle between the dinosaurs and the crocodile-line during the Triassic-Jurassic transition, with Pangaea in the background.
The DAWNDINOS research team will be testing the ‘ Locomotor Superiority Hypothesis’ which dates back at least to the 1970s and hasn’t been looked at before. This idea suggests that if food and water became scarce near the Triassic-Jurassic boundary due to climate change, maybe dinosaurs, which were mostly two-legged, and lightly built were able to outcompete the generally quadrupedal, more heavily built pseudosuchians (crocodile-relatives).
Our researchers have developed a five year research plan to look at the key research questions, including, did dinosaurs possess locomotor advantages relative to early pseudosuchians during the late Triassic/early Jurassic period? They will study this by developing computer simulations of extinct dinosaurs and, informed by studies of living archosaurs, to test if this hypothesis is plausible (or not).
Alternative hypotheses to the Locomotor Superiority Hypothesis tend to focus on temporal patterns of survival and extinction, which hint that dinosaurs were not biologically superior in some clear way, but rather were “holders of a lucky ticket” that opportunistically survived the Triassic-Jurassic extinctions and then radiated as the crocodile-line diminished in its terrestrial dominance.
Whatever the findings of the DAWNDINOS research, this project will undoubtedly have a major impact on advancing the study of the evolution of the vertebrate musculoskeletal system as well as other benefits, including pushing the frontiers of experimental and computational techniques to analyse locomotor performance and promoting the 3 R’s in clinical applications to animals and human studies.
It may well be that the Locomotor Superiority Hypothesis cannot even be directly tested, or that there are underappreciated alternative better hypotheses, or multiple hypotheses might be mutually non-exclusive or indistinguishable.
We’ll see– that’s the fun thing about science!