Science writer Rayshell Clapper for covered the research of SMU paleontologist Timothy S. Myers for the news site’s science section.

Myers’ latest study found Jurassic ecosystems were similar to modern: Animals flourish among lush plants. The study set out to discover whether that same relationship held true 150 million years ago during the Late Jurassic when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

“The assumption has been that ancient ecosystems worked just like our modern ecosystems,” said Myers. “We wanted to see if this was, in fact, the case.”

Myers is research curator for SMU’s Shuler Museum of Paleontology in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences of Dedman College.

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By Rayshell Clapper

According to Southern Methodist University paleontologists Timothy S. Myers, Louis L. Jacobs, and SMU sedimentary geologist Neil J. Tabor, the modern relationship between animals and vegetation is similar to millions of years ago.

In their study, the SMU scientists used fossil soils from the Late Jurassic age gathered from locations where animal fossils were previously found to determine the levels of carbon isotopes. The team used fossils gathered from North America, Europe, and Africa. The main problem with the study, though, is that few places in the world are well-sampled enough for terrestrial fossils, so Myers and his team discovered a new and creative use of an already existing method and already existing geological data.

To gather his results, Myers used a traditional method to estimate carbon dioxide in the ancient atmosphere, only he applied it to estimate the amount of carbon dioxide in ancient soils. To do this, the team took measurements from the nodules of calcite that take on the isotopic signature of the carbon dioxide gas around them. This comes from two sources: the atmosphere and the plants decaying in the soil.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide has a more positive isotope while the decaying plants have more negative isotopes. Therefore, more carbon dioxide from plants means a lusher, wetter environment, which is exactly what their research found.

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