How did some dinosaurs go from being impossibly huge, Earth-bound creatures to winged masters of the sky? The answer, a new study suggests, is simple: They got small, and kept on getting smaller.
A study out of the University of Southampton just published in the journal Science involved an examination of 1,500 dinosaur traits by researchers, who reassembled the dinosaur family tree and used mathematical models to track adaptations and body size over time, and across branches of the dino family tree.
They observed that the therpod branch of dinosaurs, from which ultimately evolved modern birds, was the only branch that kept getting smaller in size, sustaining the shrinkage for 50 million years.
"Being smaller and lighter in the land of giants, with rapidly evolving anatomical adaptations, provided these bird ancestors with new ecological opportunities, such as the ability to climb trees, glide and fly," said lead author Associate Professor Michael Lee, from the University of Adelaide's School of Earth and Environmental Sciences and the South Australian Museum, in a press release.