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Three dinosaur species turn out to be one

Just buried and compressed in different ways:

A new analysis of dinosaur fossils by University of Pennsylvania researchers has revealed that a number of specimens of the genus Psittacosaurus — once believed to represent three different species — are all members of a single species. The differences among the fossil remains that led other scientists to label them as separate species in fact arose from how the animals were buried and compressed, the study found.

Based on the “old-fashioned” method of examining the physical skulls, the researchers concluded that the three purported species were in fact one. They propose that all three can be considered members of the species P. lujiatunensis.

Results from the geometric morphometric analysis, though not sufficient on its own to classify species, supported this conclusion and suggested that how an animal’s body was crushed as it fossilized — from the top, from the side or twisted — could lead to inaccurate species determinations.

“Our study found all of these false ‘species’ that are not biological species but are apparent species caused by the process of fossilization,” Dodson said.

The Penn team said their investigation shows the value of traditional taxonomic analysis, while also revealing the potential of a new approach to analyzing fossils.

The findings also illustrate the risks of large, general conclusions from a few apparently randomly preserved fossils.

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2 Responses to Three dinosaur species turn out to be one

  1. I am greatly amused by the fact that the very science-sounding “geometric morphometic analysis” proved false but the good old-fashioned common sense way of “examining the evidence” actually worked.

  2. This illustrates the difficulty of correctly interpreting the unobservable past. Scientists are human too. Many have a personal bias when doing their interpretation. For some, a need for funding or a hunger for prestige and/or recognition drives them to see new species where none exist. When you only have a few bone fragments, creativity can come in quite handy.

    And then you have the problem of not ever knowing if your current opinion/view is actually right. Of course, all scientists know that science cannot ever really prove anything.

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