Extinction of Major Groups
The discovery that birds are a type of dinosaur showed that dinosaurs in general are not, in fact, extinct as is commonly stated. However, all non-avian dinosaurs as well as many groups of birds did suddenly become extinct approximately 65 million years ago. Many other groups of animals also became extinct at this time, including ammonites (nautilus-like mollusks), mosasaurs, plesiosaurs, pterosaurs, and many groups of mammals. This mass extinction is known as the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event. The nature of the event that caused this mass extinction has been extensively studied since the 1970s; at present, several related theories are supported by paleontologists. Though the consensus is that an impact event was the primary cause of dinosaur extinction, some scientists cite other possible causes, or support the idea that a confluence of several factors was responsible for the sudden disappearance of dinosaurs from the fossil record.
At the peak of the Mesozoic, there were no polar ice caps, and sea levels are estimated to have been from 100 to 250 meters (300 to 800 ft) higher than they are today. The planet's temperature was also much more uniform, with only 25 °C (45 °F) separating average polar temperatures from those at the equator. On average, atmospheric temperatures were also much higher; the poles, for example, were 50 °C (90 °F) warmer than today.
The atmosphere's composition during the Mesozoic is a matter for debate. While some academics argue that oxygen levels were much higher than today, others argue that biological adaptations seen in birds and dinosaurs indicate that respiratory systems evolved beyond what would be necessary if oxygen levels were high. By the late Cretaceous, the environment was changing dramatically. Volcanic activity was decreasing, which led to a cooling trend as levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide dropped. Oxygen levels in the atmosphere also started to fluctuate and would ultimately fall considerably. Some scientists hypothesize that climate change, combined with lower oxygen levels, might have led directly to the demise of many species. If the dinosaurs had respiratory systems similar to those commonly found in modern birds, it may have been particularly difficult for them to cope with reduced respiratory efficiency, given the enormous oxygen demands of their very large bodies.
Read more about this topic: Jurassic Dinosaurs
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