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New Dinosaur Raptor Found; First In Southern Hemisphere

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  • Pat Neuman
    Photo of fossil foot of new raptor dinosaur species, Neuquenraptor argentinus. Photo courtesy of Fernando Novas, Argentine Museum of Natural History. by Pam
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 1, 2005
      Photo of fossil foot of new raptor dinosaur species, Neuquenraptor
      argentinus. Photo courtesy of Fernando Novas, Argentine Museum of
      Natural History.
      by Pam Frost Gorder

      Columbus OH (SPX) Feb 28, 2005
      Scientists at Ohio State University and the Argentine Museum of
      Natural History have identified a new species of raptor dinosaur from
      fossils found in Patagonia the very southern tip of South America.
      It is the first raptor ever found in the Southern Hemisphere, but
      compared to other raptors, Neuquenraptor argentinus wasnt much of a
      standout. It was only of average height and weight for its kind,
      measured six feet from head to tail, and brandished a razor-sharp claw
      for slashing prey.

      Now, its bones provide the first uncontroversial evidence that raptors
      roamed the prehistoric world beyond the Northern Hemisphere 90 million
      years ago, said Diego Pol, a postdoctoral researcher at Ohio State.
      Before this, the extent of the dinosaurs range wasnt certain.

      Pol and Fernando Novas of the Argentine Museum of Natural History
      published their finding in the current issue of the journal Nature.

      With joint appointments in Ohio State's Mathematical Biosciences
      Institute and the Department of Biomedical Informatics, Pol represents
      a kind of new species himself. He is one of a growing number of
      scientists who are using todays powerful computers to confront grand
      challenges in the life sciences.

      He spends most of his time developing software to map the genes of
      living creatures, from bacteria to humans, to show how different
      species are related.

      He used similar techniques to study the relationships of the new
      raptor. Because fossils don't preserve DNA, Pol mapped the dinosaur's
      anatomical and skeletal characteristics to place it on the raptor
      family tree.

      Novas discovered the fossils in Patagonia with colleague Pablo Puerta
      in 1996. They found fragments of the dinosaur's vertebrae and ribs, as
      well as parts of its legs and a left rear foot, complete with the
      signature raptor claw.

      Since then, scientists from around the world have worked to record all
      the data that could be used to identify the dinosaur, such as the size
      and shape of its bones and where the muscles and ligaments connected
      to them. All in all, they measured 224 separate characteristics.

      That may sound like a lot of information, but Pol is accustomed to
      working with much larger data sets. He routinely assembles family
      trees based on genetic sequences that number in the thousands.

      He's working with experts in the Department of Biomedical Informatics,
      the Ohio Supercomputer Center, and the University of Tucuman in
      Argentina to develop software to sort through those mammoth databases
      and find connections between species.

      "We can use gene sequences, or any physical characteristic like bones
      or muscles, or even behavior. We find the tree structure that is most
      compatible with whatever data we have," Pol said.

      Once Pol entered the dinosaur data into the software, the final
      analysis took only minutes. The conclusion: the bones definitely
      belonged to a raptor.

      Not only the claw, but also finer details such as the pointed shape of
      some of the foot bones provided key proof, he explained.

      Neuquenraptor lived 90 million years ago, during the late Cretaceous
      period - roughly the same time that the Velociraptor of Jurassic Park
      fame and its cousin Utahraptor roamed what are now Asia and North
      America. And thats what makes Neuquenraptor so special.

      According to current geologic theory, the Earth of 90 million years
      ago featured two giant supercontinents - one called Laurasia that
      eventually split into Europe, Asia, and North America, and another
      called Gondwana that became Australia, Africa, Antarctica, and South

      Because Neuquenraptor was found in Patagonia, it must have lived on
      Gondwana, Pol said. All other verified species of raptor have been
      found on land that was once Laurasia.

      "That's what was most striking," Pol said. "Given the geographic
      location, you wouldn't expect to find a raptor there. So from the
      beginning we knew we had an interesting finding."

      Since Gondwana and Laurasia were completely separated by ocean 90
      million years ago, the find suggests that a common raptor ancestor
      probably roamed both supercontinents before they split apart from an
      even larger land mass, Pangea - some 150 million years ago, during the
      late Jurassic period.

      "Up to now, all known raptor species were exclusive to the Northern
      Hemisphere," Pol said. "And they all date to a time way after the
      splitting of the two land masses."

      Now, he said, scientists can make a more complete map of raptors
      biological and geographical history - where they lived, how old the
      various species lineages were, and how long ago they diversified from
      each other.

      The scientists named the raptor based on the Patagonian province where
      it was found, Neuquén.

      Counting Neuquenraptor, the raptor family tree now has eleven official
      branches, including Velociraptor, Utahraptor, and pint-sized
      Microraptor. All share a common ancestor with modern birds.

      The National Geographic Society and the Agencia de Promocion
      Cientifica in Argentina funded Novas research and the fieldwork for
      the study. Pols analysis of the fossils was funded by Ohio State.

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