Jan. 6 (UPI) — Seeds consumed by dinosaurs frequently remained intact inside their stomachs, according to new fossil evidence.
The findings suggest dinosaurs may have helped ancient plant species spread across the prehistoric world.
To better understand how seeds might have been carried and deposited across various landscapes, researchers modeled the likely travel speeds and defecation rates of different dinosaur species — a pair of factors predicted by a dinosaur’s body weight.
The modeling effort — led by George Perry, an expert on the dynamics of forest ecosystems and a professor at the University of Aukland — revealed an ideal seed-spreader, Triceratops.
Most members of the Triceratops genus weighed between 8 and 10 tons, and the three-horned dinosaurs likely topped out at speeds of 15 miles per hour.
The model’s predictions — detailed Wednesday in the journal Biology Letters — also highlighted the seed-spreading potential of another large plant-eater, Stegosaurus. Members of the genus weighed between 6 and 8 tons.
On average, the two groups of dinosaurs likely spread seeds 2.5 to 3 miles from their origins, but could have sometimes carried and deposited seeds more than 18 miles from their point of consumption.
Previously, scientists have theorized about the fertilizing services provided by massive whales and sharks within early ecosystems. The latest research also emphasizes the essential ecosystems services megafauna species have long provided.
“When we think about extinct animals, it’s easy to just think of a long list — but in fact they all played inter-linked roles in our ecosystems,” Perry, author of the new study, said in a news release.
Scientists can’t be certain whether seeds surviving the digestive tract of dinosaurs could be successfully germinated. Still, the research adds to the growing body of evidence that large animals aided the proliferation of early plant species.
The earliest evidence of intact seeds in fossilized excrement dates to 280 million years ago. Dinosaurs first emerged around 230 millions years, and went extinct 65 million years ago.