Home Sciences The white shark could have contributed to the extinction of the megalodon,...

The white shark could have contributed to the extinction of the megalodon, a giant of 20 meters

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The great white shark competed for prey with the gigantic megalodon, which populated the oceans until 3.6 million years ago and could reach 20 meters in length. This factor could have contributed to its extinction, according to a study published by the journal Nature Communications.

Analysis of zinc isotopes present in fossilized teeth offers scientists a new window into the past and allows them to investigate the diet and position in the food chain of animals that became extinct millions of years ago.

With this new method, researchers from German and American centers have detected a coincidence in the type of food between the sharks that lived off present-day North Carolina (USA) in the early Pliocene -between 5.3 and 3.6 million years ago- and the gigantic megalodon.

Until now, various factors have been proposed to explain its gigantism (diet) and its extinction, in which the competition for food between sharks and megalodons would have been decisive.

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“These results possibly imply that there was at least some overlap in the prey they hunted both species of sharks,” Kenshu Shimada, a researcher at DePaul University in the United States, said in a statement. The sharks would have been more efficient in capturing these prey, which progressively left the megalodon without part of its food source, according to the study.

How to find out the diet of extinct species

Analysis of stable zinc isotope levels in tooth enamel, the most mineralized part of the teeth, offers similar results to another more established technique, which studies the nitrogen isotopes in the collagen of the teeth. However, collagen is not preserved long enough for it to be possible to analyze its content in fossils from millions of years ago.

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The work published now “demonstrates for the first time that diet-related zinc isotope signatures are preserved in the mineralized enamel crown of fossilized shark teeth,” says Thomas Tutken, professor at the Institute of Geosciences at the German university Johannes Gutenberg.

“Our research illustrates that it is possible to use zinc isotopes to investigate the diet and trophic ecology of extinct animals millions of years ago, a method that can be applied to other groups of fossilized animals, including our ancestors,” said Jeremy McCormack of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany.

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