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Redrawing the Dinosaur family tree

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Charlie Eardley.

The of the origin and early evolution of the dinosaurs is a subject that is currently undergoing one of the most turbulent periods in its history; new discoveries and the implementation of new technologies to study them are continually providing palaeontologists with fresh insights into this important moment in the history of life on Earth.

Recently, the historic consensus on early dinosaur evolution and interrelationships, which has stood for over 130 years, has been challenged. Through the construction of a large morphological dataset of the earliest dinosaurs and close dinosaur relatives (all Triassic and Early Jurassic in age), the interrelationships at the very base of the dinosaur family have been assessed and a new tree topology has been recovered. This rearrangement has placed the meat-eating theropod dinosaurs, such a T. rex, in a close relationship with a strange group of herbivores known as the ornithischians, the group to which Triceratops and Stegosaurus belong. This novel result has a number of implications for our understanding of the first appearance of this well known clade of terrestrial vertebrates, including where and when the clade may have originated.

The continued improvement and implementation of the large early dinosaur dataset has also now revealed a number of other interesting things, including a possible ‘missing-link’ dinosaur – Chilesaurus. This bizarre animal appears to bridge the morphological gap between the meat-eaters and the strange herbivores, and its anatomy tells us a lot about how exactly this herbivorous clade first adapted to eating plants.

This talk is part of the Sedgwick Club talks series.

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