The precise temporal calibration of dinosaur origins.Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016 Jan 19; 113(3):509-13.PN
Dinosaurs have been major components of ecosystems for over 200 million years. Although different macroevolutionary scenarios exist to explain the Triassic origin and subsequent rise to dominance of dinosaurs and their closest relatives (dinosauromorphs), all lack critical support from a precise biostratigraphically independent temporal framework. The absence of robust geochronologic age control for comparing alternative scenarios makes it impossible to determine if observed faunal differences vary across time, space, or a combination of both. To better constrain the origin of dinosaurs, we produced radioisotopic ages for the Argentinian Chañares Formation, which preserves a quintessential assemblage of dinosaurian precursors (early dinosauromorphs) just before the first dinosaurs. Our new high-precision chemical abrasion thermal ionization mass spectrometry (CA-TIMS) U-Pb zircon ages reveal that the assemblage is early Carnian (early Late Triassic), 5- to 10-Ma younger than previously thought. Combined with other geochronologic data from the same basin, we constrain the rate of dinosaur origins, demonstrating their relatively rapid origin in a less than 5-Ma interval, thus halving the temporal gap between assemblages containing only dinosaur precursors and those with early dinosaurs. After their origin, dinosaurs only gradually dominated mid- to high-latitude terrestrial ecosystems millions of years later, closer to the Triassic-Jurassic boundary.