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Dinosaur family tree needs to be rearranged, redefined and renamed says study

Palaeontologists may have had it all wrong until now suggests a new study that is calling for rearrangement, redefinition and renaming of dinosaur groups in the dinosaur family tree.

Scientists claim through a study published in journal Nature that dinosaurs most likely originated in the northern hemisphere and not the southern and this will have a profound effect on how the dinosaurs are arranged in their family tree. Ever since proper classification of dinosaur fossils started and their family tree designed and developed, dinosaurs have been categorized in two distinct groups: Ornithischia and Saurischia.

But according to authors of the new study the family groups are not accurate and the naming conventions have to be completely changed. Researchers at University of Cambridge and Natural History Museum in London explain that as more and more fossils were discovered scientists realised that dinosaurs were anatomically diverse and attempts were then made to classify them into groups that shared particular features with scientists then classifying them into two distinct groupings, or clades; Saurischia or Ornithischia.

As more dinosaurs were described it became clear that they belonged to three distinct lineages; Ornithischia, Sauropodomorpha and Theropoda. However, the new study concludes that the ornithischians need to be grouped with the theropods, to the exclusion of the sauropodomorphs. It has long been known that birds (with their obviously ‘bird-like’ hips) evolved from theropod dinosaurs (with their lizard-like hips). However, the re-grouping of dinosaurs proposed in this study shows that both ornithischians AND theropods had the potential to evolve a bird-like hip arrangement- they just did so at different times in their history.

The revised grouping of Ornithischia and Theropoda has been named the Ornithoscelida which revives a name originally coined by the evolutionary biologist, Thomas Henry Huxley in 1870.

While analysing the dinosaur family trees the team arrived at another unexpected conclusion. For many years, it was thought that dinosaurs originated in the southern hemisphere on the ancient continent known as Gondwana. The oldest dinosaur fossils have been recovered from South America suggesting the earliest dinosaurs originated there. But as a result of a re-examination of key taxa it’s now thought they could just as easily have originated on the northern landmass known as Laurasia, though it must be remembered that the continents were much closer together at this time.

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