Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Dinosaur Farts May Have Warmed the Earth

By Magdeline Lum

Scientists estimate that sauropods emitted substantially more methane than modern ruminants.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Giant leaf-eating dinosaurs roaming the Earth millions of years ago may have produced enough of the greenhouse gas methane to warm the climate, according to a study published in Current Biology. The Mesozoic era spanning from 250 million years ago to 65 million years ago is believed to have had a hotter climate than today.

Sauropod dinosaurs like Apatosaurus had large, bulky bodies with long necks that allowed them to graze on grasses as well as from the treetops. They were in large numbers 150 million years ago.

Researchers led by David Wilkinson of Liverpool John Moores University in the United Kingdom estimated how much methane these dinosaurs would have released. The estimates, they warn, are based on a number of assumptions.

Methane is a natural byproduct of the digestive process of plant-eaters, especially in ruminants like cows and camels. Researchers suspect that, like ruminants, sauropods may have had methane-producing bacteria in their intestines to help digest fibrous foods. However, there is currently no way to tell what kind of bacteria lived in the gut of dinosaurs or even what their digestive systems looked like.

A mathematical model was used to calculate how much gas the plant-eating giants would have released. This was based on data available today on methane production by modern mammals based scaled up to the size of sauropods...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.