Extinction of herbivorous dinosaurs linked to Early Jurassic global warming event.Proc Biol Sci. 2020 11 25; 287(1939):20202310.PB
Sauropods, the giant long-necked dinosaurs, became the dominant group of large herbivores in terrestrial ecosystems after multiple related lineages became extinct towards the end of the Early Jurassic (190-174 Ma). The causes and precise timing of this key faunal change, as well as the origin of eusauropods (true sauropods), have remained ambiguous mainly due to the scarce dinosaurian fossil record of this time. The terrestrial sedimentary successions of the Cañadón Asfalto Basin in central Patagonia (Argentina) document this critical interval of dinosaur evolution. Here, we report a new dinosaur with a nearly complete skull that is the oldest eusauropod known to date and provide high-precision U-Pb geochronology that constrains in time the rise of eusauropods in Patagonia. We show that eusauropod dominance was established after a massive magmatic event impacting southern Gondwana (180-184 Ma) and coincided with severe perturbations to the climate and a drastic decrease in the floral diversity characterized by the rise of conifers with small scaly leaves. Floral and faunal records from other regions suggest these were global changes that impacted the terrestrial ecosystems during the Toarcian warming event and formed part of a second-order mass extinction event.