(AFP) – Jun 10, 2008
PARIS (AFP) — A dinosaur bone discovered in Australia has defied prevailing wisdom about how the world's continents separated from a super-continent millions of years ago, a new study published on Tuesday said.
The 19-centimetre (eight-inch) bone was found in southeastern Australia but it comes from a very close cousin to Megaraptor, a flesh-ripping monster that lorded over swathes of South American some 90 million years ago.
The extraordinary similarity between the two giant theropods adds weight to a dissident view about the breakup of a super-continent, known as Gondwana, that formed the continents of the southern hemisphere, the authors say.
Gondwana broke up during the Cretaceous period to form South America, Africa, Antarctica and Australia.
The standard theory is that the first continents to go were South America and Africa, which pulled away from Gondwana around 120 million years ago.
Australia remained attached to Antarctica before the two entities drifted apart around 80 million years ago, according to this theory. Australia began an insular existence that incubated flora and fauna which remain unique to this day.
The forearm bone, found near Cape Otway in the state of Victoria, is the first link ever found between a non-flying therapod -- or two-footed dinosaur -- in Australia and another component of Gondwana.
The investigators, led by Nathan Smith of the University of Chicago, say the two dinosaurs are so similar the two land masses of South America and Australia could not have been separated for so many millions of years beforehand.
If that had been the case, evolutionary pressures would have pushed the dinos in different directions as they adapted to their changing environments.
They speculate that land bridges must have persisted between southern South America and the Western Antarctic Archipelago "until at least the Late Eocene," a period that began some 40 million years ago.
The study is published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a journal of Britain's de-facto academy of sciences.
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