Herbivorous dinosaurs could have evolved different ways of eating their food, the researchers say.
While analyzing the skulls of the earliest known herbivorous dinosaurs, scientists discovered that they had variations in eating styles despite similar diets.
Lead author Dr David Button from the University of Bristol said it was due to “having different jaw muscles and biting actions”.
The researchers said it showed “how innovative” evolution could be.
Dr David Button, who carried out the work at London’s Natural History Museum, said that when they compared the functional performance of the skull and teeth, “they found significant differences in the relative sizes of the jaw muscles, the bite forces and jaw force enter them”.
He added: “This showed that these dinosaurs, while looking somewhat similar, had evolved very different ways of approaching a plant diet.”
‘Reconstruction of the jaw muscles’
Published in the journal Current Biology, the researchers said their findings could help shed more light on how dinosaurs evolved to fill certain ecological niches, and also highlight just how unpredictable evolution could be.
For the study, the researchers reconstructed jaw muscles from Heterodontosaurus, Lesothosaurus, Scelidosaurus, Hypsilophodon, and Psittacosaurus.
They then simulated the biting action to analyze the forces exerted by the reconstructed muscles.
The five dinosaur species belong to a group of herbivorous creatures known as Ornithischia, which experts say were the earliest representatives of what would become the major groups of herbivorous dinosaurs.
The team found that Heterodontosaurus had large jaw muscles relative to the size of its skull, producing a high bite force ideal for consuming tough vegetation.
Scelidosaurus, on the other hand, had relatively small jaw muscles compared to its skull, but had a similar bite force, due to its larger overall body size.
Lead author Professor Paul Barrett, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum, said that in order to understand “how dinosaurs diversified into so many different types” effectively, it was “critical to learn” how dinosaurs evolved to feed on such a variety. wide of vegetation in so many different ways.
While all dinosaurs are believed to have descended from a single carnivorous ancestor, most of them evolved to become herbivores.