Behemoth: Largest And Strongest Land Animal In …
The History of Animal Evolution - University of Waikato
However, despite the fact that the mammals had what many people regard as "advanced" features, they were still only minor players on the world stage. As the world entered the Jurassic period (213 - 145 million years ago), the dominant animals on land, in the sea, and in the air, were the reptiles. Dinosaurs, more numerous and more extraordinary than those of the Triassic, were the chief land animals; crocodiles, ichthyosaurs, and plesiosaurs ruled the sea, while the air was inhabited by the .
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Dinosaurs spread throughout the world - including New Zealand, which had its own dinosaur fauna - during the Jurassic, but during the subsequent Cretaceous period (145 - 65 million years ago) they were declining in species diversity. In fact, many of the typically Mesozoic organisms - such as ammonites, belemnites, gymnosperms, ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, and pterosaurs - were in decline at this time, despite the fact that they were still giving rise to new species.
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New Zealand, by virtue of its isolation and its relatively recent geological development, was not the centre of any novel evolutionary development. However, many of the species that date back to Gondwanaland, or that arrived more recently as migrants, have undergone significant adaptive radiation in their new homeland. Some of the best examples of this can be related to the major ecological changes that accompanied the Pleistocene Ice Ages.
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The trend towards a cooler global climate that occurred during the Oligocene epoch (33.7 - 23.8 million years ago) saw the appearance of the grasses, which were to extend into vast grasslands during the subsequent Miocene (23.8 - 5.3 million years ago). This change in vegetation drove the evolution of browsing animals, such as more modern horses, with teeth that could deal with the high silica content of the grasses. The cooling climate trend also affected the oceans, with a decline in the number of marine plankton and invertebrates.