Dinosaurs diversified in two steps during the Triassic. They originated about 245 Ma, during the recovery from the Permian-Triassic mass extinction, and then remained insignificant until they exploded in diversity and ecological importance during the Late Triassic. Hitherto, this Late Triassic explosion was poorly constrained and poorly dated. Here we provide evidence that it followed the Carnian Pluvial Episode (CPE), dated to 234-232 Ma, a time when climates switched from arid to humid and back to arid again. Our evidence comes from a combined analysis of skeletal evidence and footprint occurrences, and especially from the exquisitely dated ichnofaunas of the Italian Dolomites. These provide evidence of tetrapod faunal compositions through the Carnian and Norian, and show that dinosaur footprints appear exactly at the time of the CPE. We argue then that dinosaurs diversified explosively in the mid Carnian, at a time of major climate and floral change and the extinction of key herbivores, which the dinosaurs opportunistically replaced.
- Journal Article