Growing a dinosaur's dinner
Scientists have estimated the nutritional value of herbivorous dinosaurs' diet
Researchers at the Universities of Leeds and Goettingen have studied the nutrition of plant-eating dinosaurs by cultivating plants under atmospheric conditions similar to those of about 150 million years ago. The previous assumption that plants growing in an atmosphere with a high carbon dioxide content must be poorer in nutrients was not confirmed by the study. The results have been published in the journal Palaeontology.
"Of course, we usually deal with cows or goats, animals about which we know a lot," says Prof. Dr. Jürgen Hummel from the Department of Animal Sciences and together with Dr. A. Reza Sharifi, a co-author of the study. "Developing scenarios about what the diet of dinosaurs might have looked like was very exciting. In fact, we had to reconsider some findings that had been assumed to be the case for mammals." The researchers cultivated plants such as horsetail and ginkgo in an atmosphere rich in carbon dioxide. In doing so, they imitated the world of the then living sauropod dinosaurs, the largest creatures that ever walked the earth. The team simulated the digestion of the plant leaves in the stomach of the dinosaurs using an artificial digestive system in the Goettingen laboratory.
It can be deduced from the results that many of the plants that dinosaurs ate had a higher nutrient content than sometimes assumed. "The conclusion of our study with six plant species was that - contrary to our expectations - only in one case did the CO2 content in the atmosphere have a clearly negative effect on feed quality in our sample", said Hummel. According to the authors, the way dinosaurs ate allows conclusions to be drawn about the way dinosaurs lived. "The amount and quality of food plays an important role in explaining the massive size of sauropods."
Reference: Diets of giants: the nutritional value of sauropod diet during the Mesozoic. Fiona L. Gill et al. Palaeontology (2018). Doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/pala.12385
Prof. Dr. Jürgen Hummel
University of Goettingen
Department of Animal Science
Telefon (0551) 39-23359