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What if the dinosaurs hadn’t gone extinct? Why our world might look very different

Sixty-six million years in the past, an asteroid hit the Earth with the pressure of 10 billion atomic bombs and altered the course of evolution. The skies darkened and crops stopped photosynthesising. The crops died, then the animals that ate up them. The meals chain collapsed. Over 90% of all species vanished. When the mud settled, all dinosaurs besides a handful of birds had gone extinct.

However this catastrophic occasion made human evolution potential. The surviving mammals flourished, together with little proto-primates that will evolve into us.

You are reading: What if the dinosaurs hadn’t gone extinct? Why our world might look very different

After the asteroid.
Joschua Knuppe

Think about the asteroid had missed, and dinosaurs survived. Image extremely advanced raptors planting their flag on the moon. Dinosaur scientists, discovering relativity, or discussing a hypothetical world wherein, extremely, mammals took over the Earth.

This would possibly sound like dangerous science fiction, however it will get at some deep, philosophical questions on evolution. Is humanity simply right here by probability, or is the evolution of clever tool-users inevitable?

Brains, instruments, language and large social teams make us the planet’s dominant species. There are 8 billion Homo sapiens on seven continents. By weight, there are extra people than all wild animals.

We’ve modified half of Earth’s land to feed ourselves. You possibly can argue creatures like people have been certain to evolve.

Within the Nineteen Eighties, palaeontologist Dale Russell proposed a thought experiment wherein a carnivorous dinosaur advanced into an clever instrument person. This “dinosauroid” was big-brained with opposable thumbs and walked upright.

Mannequin of the dinosauroid.
Eleanor Kish/ Canadian Museum of Nature, Creator supplied (no reuse)

It’s not not possible however it’s unlikely. The biology of an animal constrains the route of its evolution. Your start line limits your endpoints.

Should you drop out of faculty, you most likely received’t be a mind surgeon, lawyer or Nasa rocket scientist. However you is likely to be an artist, actor or entrepreneur. The paths we soak up life open some doorways and shut others. That’s additionally true in evolution.

Big dinosaurs and mammals by way of time.
Nick Longrich

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Take into account the dimensions of dinosaurs. Starting within the Jurassic, sauropod dinosaurs, Brontosaurus and kin advanced into 30-50 tonne giants as much as 30 metres lengthy – ten instances the load of an elephant and so long as a blue whale. This occurred in a number of teams, together with Diplodocidae, Brachiosauridae, Turiasauridae, Mamenchisauridae and Titanosauria.

This occurred on completely different continents, at completely different instances and in numerous climates, from deserts to rainforests. However different dinosaurs dwelling in these environments didn’t change into supergiants.

The frequent thread linking these animals was that they have been sauropods. One thing about sauropod anatomy – lungs, hole bones with a excessive strength-to-weight ratio, metabolism or all these items – unlocked their evolutionary potential. It allow them to develop large in a manner that no land animals had ever earlier than, or have since.

Likewise, the carnivorous dinosaurs repeatedly advanced large, ten-metre, multi-tonne predators. Over 100 million years, megalosaurids, allosaurids, carcharodontosaurids, neovenatorids and at last tyrannosaurs advanced large apex predators.

Mind measurement versus physique mass for dinosaurs, mammals, and birds.
Nick Longrich

Dinosaurs did large our bodies properly. Large brains not a lot. Dinosaurs did present a weak pattern in direction of elevated mind measurement over time. Jurassic dinosaurs like Allosaurus, Stegosaurus and Brachiosaurus had small brains.

By the late Cretaceous, 80 million years later, tyrannosaurs and duckbills had advanced bigger brains. However regardless of its measurement, the T. rex mind nonetheless weighed simply 400 grams. A Velociraptor mind weighed 15 grams. The common human mind weighs 1.3 kilograms.

Dinosaurs did enter new niches over time. Small herbivores grew to become extra frequent and birds diversified. Lengthy-legged types advanced afterward, suggesting an arms race between fleet-footed predators and their prey.

Dinosaurs appear to have had more and more complicated social lives. They began dwelling in herds and advanced elaborate horns for preventing and show. But dinosaurs principally appear to repeat themselves, evolving large herbivores and carnivores with small brains.

There’s little about 100 million years of dinosaur historical past to trace they’d have completed something radically completely different if the asteroid hadn’t intervened. We’d probably nonetheless have these supergiant, long-necked herbivores and big tyrannosaur-like predators.

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They might have advanced barely larger brains, however there’s little proof they’d have advanced into geniuses. Neither is it probably that mammals would have displaced them. Dinosaurs monopolised their environments to very finish, when the asteroid hit.

Mammals, in the meantime, had completely different constraints. They by no means advanced supergiant herbivores and carnivores. However they repeatedly advanced large brains. Huge brains (as giant or bigger than ours) advanced in orcas, sperm whales, baleen whales, elephants, leopard seals and apes.

Right now, a couple of dinosaur descendants – birds like crows and parrots – have complicated brains. They will use instruments, discuss and rely. However it’s mammals like apes, elephants and dolphins that advanced the most important brains and most complicated behaviours.

So did eliminating the dinosaurs assure mammals would evolve intelligence?

Nicely, perhaps not.

Beginning factors could restrict endpoints, however they don’t assure them both. Steve Jobs, Invoice Gates and Mark Zuckerberg all dropped out of faculty. But when dropping out routinely made you a multibillionaire, each faculty dropout could be wealthy. Even beginning in the best place, you want alternatives and luck.

The evolutionary historical past of primates suggests our evolution was something however inevitable. In Africa, primates did evolve into big-brained apes and, over 7 million years, produced fashionable people. However elsewhere primate evolution took very completely different paths.

Lion Tamarin, a South American monkey.

When monkeys reached South America 35 million years in the past they only advanced into extra monkey species. And primates reached North America a minimum of three separate instances, 55 million years in the past, 50 million years in the past, and 20 million years in the past. But they didn’t evolve right into a species who make nuclear weapons and smartphones. As an alternative, for causes we don’t perceive, they went extinct.

In Africa, and Africa alone, primate evolution took a novel route. One thing about Africa’s fauna, flora or geography drove the evolution of apes: terrestrial, big-bodied, big-brained, tool-using primates. Even with the dinosaurs gone, our evolution wanted the best mixture of alternative and luck.


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