Polar and K/Pg nonavian dinosaurs were low-metabolic rate reptiles vulnerable to cold-induced extinction, rather than more survivable tachyenergetic bird relatives: comment on an obsolete hypothesis

Abstract

The great majority of researchers concur that the presence of dinosaurs near the poles of their time are part of a large body of evidence that all Cretaceous dinosaurs had elevated metabolic rates more like their avian subbranch and mammals than low-energy reptiles. Yet a few still propose that nonavian dinosaurs were bradyenergetic ectothermic reptiles, and migrated away from the polar winters. The latter is not biologically possible because land animals cannot and never undertake very long seasonal migrations because the cost of ground locomotion is too high even for long limbed, tachyenergetic mammals to do so, much less low-energy reptiles. Nor was it geographically possible because marine barriers barred some polar dinosaurs from moving towards the winter sun. The presence of external insulation on some dinosaurs both strongly supports their being tachyenergetic endotherms and helps explain their ability to survive polar winters that included extended dark, chilling rains, sharp frosts, and blizzards so antagonistic to reptiles that the latter are absent from some locations that preserve dinosaurs including birds and mammals. The hypothesis that nonavian dinosaurs failed to survive the K/Pg crisis because they had reptilian energetics is illogical not only because they did not have such metabolisms, but because many low-energy reptiles did survive the crisis. The global super chill that apparently plagued K/Pg dinosaurs should have seriously impacted dinosaurs at all latitudes, but does not entirely readily explain their loss because some avian dinosaurs and other land tetrapods did survive. High- as well as low-latitude dinosaurs add to the growing evidence that high-energy endothermy has been a common adaptation in a wide variety of vertebrates and flying insects since the late Paleozoic.

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Fig. 1

Modified from Paul (1988)

Fig. 2

In part updated from Paul (1988)

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Paul, G. Polar and K/Pg nonavian dinosaurs were low-metabolic rate reptiles vulnerable to cold-induced extinction, rather than more survivable tachyenergetic bird relatives: comment on an obsolete hypothesis. Int J Earth Sci (Geol Rundsch) 106, 2991–2998 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00531-017-1509-2

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Keywords

  • Dinosaurs
  • Alaskan
  • Australian
  • Polar
  • Winters
  • Energetics
  • Physiology
  • Migration
  • Cretaceous