Dinosaurs were "thriving" before an asteroid strike wiped them off the face of the Earth, a new study reveals.
It shatters the myth that dinosaurs were already declining when a cataclysmic "mass extinction" event struck 66 million years ago.
Recent research found that dinosaurs were killed off thanks to the combination of a major asteroid collision with Earth and intense volcanic activity.
But scientists have long suspected that dinosaurs were on the way out anyway, after struggling to adapt to climate change.
However, a new study by UK scientists revealed that dinosaurs were "flourishing" at the end of the Cretaceous period, just before their sudden demise.
It goes against previous mathematical predictions that suggested the number of dinosaurs had fallen before the asteroid impact.
Sadly, it's impossible to say whether the now-extinct dinosaur species would've lived on into modern times.
"As we can't really predict the course of evolution of life, we can't say if they would have died out, survived, or been outcompeted by other animals around after the Cretaceous," said lead researcher Alessandro Chiarenza, a Ph.D. student at Imperial College London, speaking to The Sun.
"66 million years is a lot of time and we know that species turnover is way more rapid than that.
But he added: "We do have dinosaurs around today, as we've got the chickens! Birds are indeed dinosaurs: just not the ones with nasty teeth and claws have gone extinct!"
The new analysis by Imperial College London, University College London and the University of Bristol created wide-ranging models that mapped the changing environment and dinosaur species distribution across North America.
It found that dinosaurs were likely not in decline before the meteorite impact.
"Dinosaurs were likely not doomed to extinction until the end of the Cretaceous, when the asteroid hit, declaring the end of their reign and leaving the planet to animals like mammals, lizards and a minor group of surviving dinosaurs: birds,"
"The results of our study suggest that dinosaurs as a whole were adaptable animals, capable of coping with the environmental changes and climatic fluctuations that happened during the last few million years of the Late Cretaceous," Alessandro explained.
"Climate change over prolonged time scales did not cause a long-term decline of dinosaurs through the last stages of this period."
The study, published in Nature Communications, reveals how changing conditions for fossilization of dinosaur remains has confused scientists.
It explains that the mismatch meant that previous studies underestimated the number of dinosaur species alive at the end of the Cretaceous.
"Most of what we know about Late Cretaceous North American dinosaurs comes from an area smaller than one-third of the present-day continent, and yet we know that dinosaurs roamed all across North America, from Alaska to New Jersey and down to Mexico," said co-author Dr. Philip Mannion, of the University College London.
Researchers modeled the environmental conditions – like temperature or rainfall – that species needed to survive.
The team then mapped where these conditions would have occurred across the continent and over time.
This let them create a detailed picture of where groups of dinosaur species could've survived as climate conditions changed – rather than just where their fossils were found.
Habitats that could support a range of dinosaur groups were more widespread at the end of the Cretaceous, according to scientists.
However, these areas were in areas that are deemed "less likely to preserve fossils."
Most dinosaur fossils in North America are found in the western half of the continent, which was once split off from the eastern half by an inland sea millions of years ago.
In the west, there was a "steady supply of sediment" from the Rocky Mountains, which created perfect conditions for fossilizing dinosaurs.
But conditions in the eastern half of North America were not as good for fossilizing dinosaur remains.
This means that not many fossils have been found in the eastern half, which lays the groundwork for scientific confusion.
That's because the new study suggests that climate conditions in the eastern half of the continent were fine for dinosaur survival, suggesting they would've "thrived."
This story originally appeared in The Sun.