Study showed how the bodies of ancient reptiles changed depending on climate change

(ORDO NEWS) — A little over 250 million years ago, at the end of the Permian and the beginning of the Triassic, the reptiles began a very successful streak. No matter how global warming starts this process again…

The pace of their evolution began to rapidly increase, resulting in a dizzying variety of abilities and body structure. This has led to reptiles becoming one of the most successful and diverse groups of animals historically.

For a long time, this heyday was explained by the fact that their competitors were destroyed by two of the largest mass extinctions in the history of the planet, about 261 and 252 million years ago.

A new study by scientists at Harvard University (USA) changes this point of view – changes in the structure of ancient reptiles have been compared with climate changes.

It turned out that morphological evolution and diversification in early reptiles not only began long before the mass extinctions, but were also directly driven by an increase in global temperature due to climate change.

“Climate change directly triggers an adaptive response in reptiles to build this huge range of new body forms and groups that we see in the Triassic,” said Thiago Simões, lead author of the study.

The researchers show the extensive anatomical changes that took place in many groups of reptiles, including the predecessors of crocodiles and dinosaurs, as a direct response to major climatic shifts between 260 and 230 million years ago.

“Here we show that rising temperatures during the Permian-Triassic led to the extinction of many animals, including many mammalian ancestors, but also caused the explosive evolution of others, especially reptiles, which continued to dominate the Triassic,” said Stephanie Pierce. Associate Professor, Department of Organic and Evolutionary Biology.

The study was the result of eight years of data collection. Simões has traveled to over 20 countries and over 50 different museums to scan and photograph over 1,000 reptile fossils.

The change in body structure of reptiles towards diversity began about 30 million years before the Permian-Triassic extinction.

The global temperature rise, which began about 270 million years ago and continued until at least 240 million years ago, was accompanied by rapid body changes in most reptile lineages.

For example, some of the larger cold-blooded animals have evolved to become smaller so they can cool off more easily. Others have evolved to live in water with the same effect.

The latter group included, for example, some of the most bizarre forms of reptiles that have since become extinct: a giant, long-necked marine reptile (somewhat similar to the Loch Ness monster); a tiny chameleon-like creature with a bird’s skull and beak; a soaring reptile resembling a gecko with wings. It also includes the ancestors of reptiles that still exist today, such as turtles and crocodiles.

The researchers plan to expand this work by investigating the impact of environmental disasters on the evolution of modern lizards and snakes.

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