Chances are you've probably heard that a giant asteroid crashed into the Earth during the age of the dinosaurs, completely wiping the huge creatures off the globe. However, new research shows that the cataclysmic impact may have only sped up the inevitable: Dinosaurs were on their way to extinction far before the asteroid hit.
According to a study published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, dinosaurs were already slowly going extinct 50 million years prior to the apocalyptic impact.
"We were not expecting this result," Manabu Sakamoto, lead author of the research, said in a press release. "While the asteroid impact is still the prime candidate for the dinosaurs' final disappearance, it is clear that they were already past their prime in an evolutionary sense."
Once the most dominant species on Earth, the study states that certain changes in the environment, such as continental shift, global cooling and "ecological factors," are ultimately what led to the demise of the dinosaur. Researchers conclude that these environmental changes may have had a detrimental effect on the dinosaurs and they did not evolve fast enough to suit the changing environment.
"All the evidence shows that the dinosaurs, which had already been around, dominating terrestrial ecosystems for 150 million years, somehow lost the ability to speciate fast enough," University of Bristol professor Mike Benton, co-author of the study, said in a statement. "This was likely to have contributed to their inability to recover from the environmental crisis caused by the impact."