After spending over a century in exile, the iconic Brontosaurus has made a comeback in the dinosaur history books. A new study published in the journal PeerJ shows that Brontosaurus is a unique genus and species in itself, not just another type of Apatosaurus. Brontosaurus, which means “thunder lizard” in Greek, had lost its status as a distinct genus in 1903 when scientists decided that it was simply a type of Apatosaurus.
Brontosaurus no longer a species of Apatosaurus
It all goes back to the Bone Wars of the late 18th century. It was the time when reputed fossil hunters Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope were naming new dinosaurs into the scientific literature, reports BBC News. In the rich fossil beds of the American west, Marsh unearthed two long-necked sauropods.
He named one Apatosaurus ajax and another Brontosaurus excelsus. Soon after, other scientists found a dinosaur skeleton that was intermediate between the two. So, researchers concluded that Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus were different species in the same genus. Since Apatosaurus was named first, it took the precedence and Brontosaurus excelsus became Apatosaurus excelsus.
Recent fossils made the study possible
But recent finds of new dinosaur fossils similar to Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus allowed researchers to conduct a detailed investigation of differences between the two. A team of researchers led by Emanuel Tschopp of the University of Lisbon in Portugal applied statistical techniques to study the differences between the species and genera of diplodocid dinosaurs.
Roger Benson, the co-author of the study, said the differences between Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus were as numerous as those between any other closely related genera. The number of differences was much higher than what is normally found between species. So, scientists said that Brontosaurus can now be resurrected as a genus, different from Apatosaurus.
It resolves over a century-long debate about what to do with Brontosaurus. It will be interesting to see how quickly these findings are adopted by the wider scientific community.