Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Secrets of dinosaur footprints revealed, thanks to 'Goldilocks'

Date:
February 8, 2011
Source:
University of Manchester
Summary:
Terrain thought to be ruled by only the largest dinosaurs to inhabit Earth could have in fact been home to dozens of other creatures, ground-breaking research has found.

A computer model of a three-toed dinosaur track.
Credit: Image courtesy of Dr. Peter L. Falkingham, University of Manchester

Terrain thought to be ruled by only the largest dinosaurs to inhabit Earth could have in fact been home to dozens of other creatures, ground-breaking research from The University of Manchester has found.

Writing in the journal of the Royal Society Interface, Dr. Peter Falkingham has discovered that dinosaurs only created lasting footprints if the soil conditions were perfect to do so -- and entirely depending on the animal's weight.

Dubbed the 'Goldilocks Effect' -- as all conditions have to be 'just right' for a print to be created -- this work could help to bring ancient environments to life, by showing how a great number of animals can walk over an area, but only a few leave behind tracks.

The findings mean that hugely-significant prehistoric dinosaur track sites, such as Paluxy River in Texas, USA, or Fumanya, Spain could have been host to a much larger number of dinosaurs and other animals than the tracks themselves show.

Dr. Falkingham, from the University's School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, led a team using detailed computer modeling to recreate the process of large dinosaurs making footprints in different types of mud.

The team incorporated scientists from a range of disciplines, including vertebrate palaeontologist Dr. Phil Manning and Geotechnical engineer Dr. Lee Margetts, both from The University of Manchester, and biomechanicist Dr. Karl Bates (University of Liverpool).

By using computer modeling to simulate dinosaurs making tracks, the scientists were able for the first time to run dozens of simulations in order to systematically change the conditions of the mud.

As dinosaurs ranged vastly in weight, from Brachiosaurus, weighing around 30 tonnes, to Compsognathus, which was the size and weight of a chicken, Dr. Falkingham worked out that only the heaviest creatures would leave prints in certain mud conditions.

Equally, in other areas where the mud was deep and soft, only lighter, nimbler dinosaurs would be able to walk over it and therefore leave prints; larger animals would become stuck and die.

These insights give palaeontologists the chance to re-evaluate the ecosystems which existed more than 100 million years ago.

Dr. Falkingham said: "By using computer modeling, we were able to recreate the conditions involved when a 30-tonne animal makes a track.

"That's very hard to do with physical modeling, more so when you need to do it 20 times in 20 different types of mud.

"But the real advantage of computer modeling is that everything is controllable. We were able to ensure that in every simulation we could look at the effects of each variable (for instance, the shape of the foot, or the weight of the animal) independently.

"As with most scientific papers, this isn't the end of research, this is the beginning.

"Now we can use this "Goldilocks" effect as a baseline for exploring more complicated factors such as the way dinosaurs moved their legs, or what happens to tracks when a mud is drying out."

In Paluxy River, site of one of the most famous sets of dinosaur footprints which seem to show a sauropod being chased by a carnivorous theropod, there are only footprints recording large dinosaurs.

But Dr. Falkingham's findings suggest that many more species probably lived there, walking over the same mud, but their footprints either made no impression or have disappeared over time.

The computer method was based on a technique common in engineering, known as finite element analysis.

This method lets scientists simulate the deformation of a material under load. While in engineering this may be an airplane wing supporting the aircraft, Dr. Falkingham and his co-authors applied the method to mud supporting a dinosaur.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Manchester. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. P. L. Falkingham, K. T. Bates, L. Margetts, P. L. Manning. The 'Goldilocks' effect: preservation bias in vertebrate track assemblages. Journal of The Royal Society Interface, 2011; DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2010.0634

Cite This Page:

University of Manchester. "Secrets of dinosaur footprints revealed, thanks to 'Goldilocks'." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 February 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110203102024.htm>.
University of Manchester. (2011, February 8). Secrets of dinosaur footprints revealed, thanks to 'Goldilocks'. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110203102024.htm
University of Manchester. "Secrets of dinosaur footprints revealed, thanks to 'Goldilocks'." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110203102024.htm (accessed September 22, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Monday, September 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Iconic 'Easy Rider' Chopper Bike to Go on Auction Block

Iconic 'Easy Rider' Chopper Bike to Go on Auction Block

AFP (Sep. 19, 2014) The iconic Harley-Davidson motorbike ridden by Peter Fonda in the 1969 classic "Easy Rider" is to go under the hammer in California, and auctioneers predict it will make at least $1 million. Duration: 01:09 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Chocolate Museum Opens in Brussels

Chocolate Museum Opens in Brussels

AFP (Sep. 19, 2014) Considered a "national heritage" in Belgium, chocolate now has a new museum in Brussels. In a former chocolate factory, visitors to the permanent exhibition spaces, workshops and tastings can discover derivatives of the cocoa bean. Duration: 01:00 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Egypt Denies Claims Oldest Pyramid Damaged in Restoration

Egypt Denies Claims Oldest Pyramid Damaged in Restoration

AFP (Sep. 17, 2014) Egypt's antiquities minister denied Tuesday claims that the Djoser pyramid, the country's first, had been damaged during restoration work by a company accused of being unqualified to do such work. Duration: 00:56 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
King Richard III's Painful Cause Of Death Revealed

King Richard III's Painful Cause Of Death Revealed

Newsy (Sep. 17, 2014) King Richard III died in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, and now researchers examining his skull think they know how. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins