Jurassic Dinosaurs - Definition


Under phylogenetic taxonomy, dinosaurs are usually defined as the group consisting of Triceratops, Neornithes, their most recent common ancestor, and all descendants". It has also been suggested that Dinosauria be defined with respect to the most recent common ancestor of Megalosaurus and Iguanodon, because these were two of the three genera cited by Richard Owen when he recognized the Dinosauria. Both definitions result in the same set of animals being defined as dinosaurs: "Dinosauria = Ornithischia + Saurischia", encompassing theropods (mostly bipedal carnivores and birds), ankylosaurians (armored herbivorous quadrupeds), stegosaurians (plated herbivorous quadrupeds), ceratopsians (herbivorous quadrupeds with horns and frills), ornithopods (bipedal or quadrupedal herbivores including "duck-bills"), and, perhaps, sauropodomorphs (mostly large herbivorous quadrupeds with long necks and tails).

Many paleontologists note that the point at which sauropodomorphs and theropods diverged may omit sauropodomorphs from the definition for both saurischians and dinosaurs. To avoid instability, Dinosauria can be more conservatively defined with respect to four anchoring nodes: Triceratops horridus, Saltasaurus loricatus, and Passer domesticus, their most recent common ancestor, and all descendants. This "safer" definition can be expressed as "Dinosauria = Ornithischia + Sauropodomorpha + Theropoda".

There is near universal consensus among paleontologists that birds are the descendants of theropod dinosaurs. In traditional taxonomy, birds were considered a separate "class" which had evolved from dinosaurs. However, a majority of modern paleontologists reject the traditional style of classification in favor of phylogenetic nomenclature, which requires that all descendants of a single common ancestor must be included in a group for that group to be natural. Birds are thus considered by most modern scientists to be dinosaurs and dinosaurs are, therefore, not extinct. Birds are classified by most paleontologists as belonging to the subgroup Maniraptora, which are coelurosaurs, which are theropods, which are saurischians, which are dinosaurs.

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