Did Dinosaurs Invent Flowers? The Science of Paleontology and Springtime
By Heath Shive
According to the old proverb, "April showers bring May flowers.”
So April’s been getting the credit all these years.
But maybe, just maybe, dinosaurs invented flowers!
To the science of paleontology in spring!
The Dinosaur Herbivores
There are basically 2 kinds of plants: gymnosperms and angiosperms.
All flowers – including May flowers - are angiosperms, and so are grains, grasses, cereals, sedges, fruits, vegetables, palms, oaks, hickories, almost every berry, etc. Today angiosperms dominate the planet.
But during the Jurassic, gymnosperms - like conifers and ferns - were king.
Then 140 million years ago, everything started to change. During the Jurassic, all the major herbivores were long-necked, tree-browsing dinosaurs (Brontosaurus, Brachiosaurus, Diplodocus, etc.). In the Cretaceous, almost all of those high-tree-browsers were extinct.
By the Cretaceous, the major herbivores were low-browsing ground-feeders.
The Dino-Flower Theory
Robert T. Bakker in his famous book The Dinosaur Heresies postulated that this new dominant ground-browsing herbivore created an flower-favorable environment.
A gymnosperm-dominated woodland would provide few available niches for early flowering plants to evolve. But if a herd of hungry Triceratops mowed down the ground cover, the net effect would reset all the ground cover back to square one. Ground cover would have to grow from scratch, similar to after a forest fire.
Angiosperms with their faster growth and maturity rates would recover first and dominate the newly available niches.
Flowering plants flourished. May flowers rule!
But Bakker has his critics too. For example, angiosperms first flourished close to the equator. Dinosaurs only sparsely populated this region, which would seem to diminish the effect of their appetites.
Furthermore, angiosperms didn’t dominate the plant world until the Late Cretaceous, when dinosaur numbers already were starting to dwindle. Others believe that environmental factors may have aided angiosperms more than dinosaur herbivores. The Mid-Cretaceous was a period of increased volcanism and ocean floor production.
Did increased temperature, CO2, and sea levels favor angiosperms over gymnosperms? Or did the rise of the pollinator insects (wasps, bees, and moths) during the Mid-Cretaceous give angiosperms their decisive advantage?
In any case, the world the dinosaurs left behind was angiosperm-supreme.
The graves of dinosaurs were festooned with flowers.
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Bakker, Robert T. The Dinosaur Heresies: New Theories Unlocking the Mystery of the Dinosaurs and their Extinction. New York: William Morrow, 1986.
Barrett, P.M. and Willis, K.J. Did dinosaurs invent flowers? Dinosaur-angiosperm coevolution revisited. Biological Reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society 76 (2001), 411-447.
Willis, K.J. and McElwain, J.C. The Evolution of Plants. New York: Oxford UP, 2002
The Emotional Risks of Bachelor/Bachelorette Parties: There’s Science For This?
By Heath Shive
Researchers in 1989 (Kenrich et al.) performed a study with male and female college students. The students’ devotion to their respective romantic partners was measured. Then, one half of the students were shown opposite-sex nude centerfolds (from Playboy and Playgirl, etc). The other half were shown pictures of abstract art. Afterwards, the students’ attraction to their partners was measured again.
Afterwards, males exposed to attractive images of nude women felt that their female romantic partner was less sexually attractive.
However, females exposed to attractive images of nude men (from Playgirl centerfolds) did not feel differently than before.
So according to this study, men were more likely to discount their current partner in the presence of more attractive women. But the study’s women were more steadfast, despite the imagery of very attractive men.
This study became a cornerstone for evolutionary psychology, frequently appearing in textbooks! By 2015, the paper had been cited 249 times on Google Scholar, and over 100 times on PsycINFO.
But there’s another paper that begs to differ.
Times Have Changed!
In 2016, a different group of researchers (Balzarini et al., 2017) wanted to see if the results of the famous Kenrick study could be replicated.
Turns out, the results were completely different!
In the new study’s first 2 experiments, the subjects’ exposure to opposite-sex nude images had no effect on their attraction to their partner. This was true for both men and women!
In the third experiment of this new study, the subjects again were exposed to pictures of the opposite-sex. But now these pictures were of attractive nudes or attractive non-nudes (with conservative clothes).
Afterwards, the subjects (both men and women) felt that their romantic partners were now more attractive!
Why the Difference?
There were some differences in the two studies (1989 vs. 2016). The original 1989 study involved young college students, but the 2016 study involved full-grown adults (average age, 35).
The first study was published in 1989 – when attitudes about nudity and eroticism were more polarized between the two sexes.
The new study was published in 2017 – with the Internet firmly part of modern life. Has the Internet made nudity so pervasive that it has become less shocking, and thus less powerful?
Gender sensitivity has grown in both the private and professional sector since 1989.
And a growing attitude of equality has allowed women to practice many of the habits previously accorded to men, including:
In other words, nudity is not as big a deal now. Nude imagery doesn't carry the same emotional power as before.
It’s a different America.
We’ve Grown Up?
Balzarini’s study would seem to show that both American males and females can be more sexually mature now. Whether that maturity comes from personal growth (as we age) or cultural growth (like #MeToo), the improvement seems real.
So how erotic should your bachelor/bachelorette party be?
Can you handle it?
How mature are you?
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Balzarini, R.N., Dobson, K., Chin, K., & Campbell, L. (2017). Does exposure to erotica reduce attraction and love for romantic partners in men? Indpendent replications of Kenrich, Gutierres, and Goldberg (1989) Study 2. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 70 (5), 191-197.
Kenrick, D. T., Gutierres, S. E., & Goldberg, L. L. (1989). Influence of popular erotica on judgments of strangers and mates. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 25 (2), 159-167. DOI: 10.1016/0022-1031 (89)90010-3.
Can Women Domesticate Men? The Science of the #MeToo Movement, Anthropology, and Female Bonobos
By Heath Shive
The effect of the #MeToo Movement was immediate and powerful.
Millions of women began to share their experiences of sexual harassment and assault on Twitter. From shared experience came shared encouragement, which progressed to shared empowerment.
A lot of power.
In time, evidence accumulated and the voices of women could destroy the success of very powerful men, from business leaders (Harvey Weinstein), to celebrities (Louis C. K. and Aziz Ansari), to legends (Bill Cosby), and members of Congress (Al Franken).
Accusations alone were enough to ruin some careers. Young men were banished from college campuses on hearsay alone. In time, even some women – from female Harvard academics to a conservative Secretary of Education – began to warn of the dangers of abandoning due process.
This is #MeToo in the short term.
But what could the long term effects be?
Could female empowerment change the evolution of human beings?
To the science of anthropology!
Girl Power? Thy Name Is Bonobo
Chimpanzee and bonobo primates are genetically very similar. They are so similar that bonobos weren’t considered a separate species until well into the 20th century. Before that recognition, bonobo skulls were considered to be unusually large skulls of chimpanzee juveniles.
But there are differences between the 2 species. Sexual dimorphism (the physical differences between males and females) is less pronounced in bonobos, with males barely bigger than females. Bonobo skulls are rounder. But the most pronounced difference is social. Bonobo primates are not nearly as ultraviolent as chimpanzees.
And females are in charge!
As you might have read in a previous blog article, infanticide and homicide rates among non-human primates seem almost sociopathic! Males dominate males, females dominate females. Toddlers are killed as potential threats to resources.
But not the bonobos.
So why the profound difference? Well, for starters, bonobo females dominate (or discipline, if you wish) the group. If a male becomes too pushy or aggressive, the female bonobo screams. All females in the area converge.
Female bonobos look out for each other.
The result is that aggressive males cannot breed. Aggression – at least on the male chromosome – is weeded out of the gene pool.
Bonobo “sisterhood” domesticated the species.
Dogs descended from wolves, but their differences are obvious. Dogs are more likely to have floppy ears, larger heads proportional to the body, less dramatic sexual dimorphism, and broader muzzles.
In other words, dogs look more like wolf cubs than wolves! That’s what domestication does to an animal species. Sexual dimorphism is decreased. Heads and eyes are bigger in proportion to body. There are fewer violent tendencies and a greater tendency to play.
Physically juvenile qualities were not bred into the dogs, rather these qualities “piggy-backed” on the genes that favored less reactive violence.
Richard Wrangham has a book out that is very much in vogue right now entitled The Goodness Paradox.
Wrangham – an anthropologist – noticed that human reactive violence (killing your neighbors) is very low, whereas our proactive violence (like war) is very high – the exact opposite of other species!
Wrangham also noticed that – when compared to our mid-Pleistocene (“cave man”) ancestors – sexual dimorphism is less pronounced in humans today.
In other words, Wrangham saw evidence of “domestication” in human beings.
But how? Where were the “shepherds” of humanity?
Wrangham in his book makes the point that as language evolved, so did communication.
As humans could gossip, complain, and share experiences – especially about how they hated their oppressor – they could also strategize, plan, and judge. Wrangham says that language gave birth to cooperation – principally among the other males – and the ultra-violent that “crossed the line” were executed.
Hence the beginning of social law – and the culling of the ultra-violent DNA out of the human gene pool.
Can Women Do the Same?
If women can censure aggressive men (“toxic masculinity”), than women can control which men mate, and therefore which genes continue to the next generation.
Unlike many of my friends, I think that equality of the sexes has long since arrived in the United States - certainly the tools for equality are already here. What has been lacking is self-actualization. MeToo served as a kind of oriflamme to this cause.
Hopefully it evolves from here – both in power and responsibility.
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Wrangham, Richard. The Goodness Paradox: The Strange Relationship Between Virtue and Violence in Human Evolution. Pantheon Books, 2019.
Hello! My name is Heath Shive, content manager at ScholarFox. I'll be the author of most of the blog posts. I'm a former geologist and currently a freelance writer. The world is complex and seemingly crazy. Good! Because when you love to learn, you'll never be bored.