Dr. Philip Currie.
Credits: David Bloom/Edmonton Sun/ QMI
EDMONTON - The University of Alberta released a new study in dinosaur diversity that's making paleontologists excited to continue digging for ancient skeletons in Alberta's badlands.
By examining tiny dinosaur teeth, university researchers have discovered that there were more species of small meat-eating dinosaurs roaming Alberta and western Canada at the end of the dinosaur age than scientists previously thought.
Under the guidance of world-renowned paleontologist Dr. Philip Currie, undergraduate student Derek Larson used fossilized dinosaur teeth to show there was at least 23 different species of small, meat-eating dinosaurs living in Alberta between 65 and 85 million years ago.
"Through my research I was able to show that, depending on the age of the rock we were looking at, there was actually different types of these small, carnivore dinosaurs," said Larson.
Larson started by collecting and examining teeth samples from the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller as well as the University of Alberta's own collection, which included teeth from members of the velociraptor and troodon families.
By examining the dimensions and serrations of more than 1,183 dinosaur teeth -- most roughly the size of a dime -- Larson could determine their approximate geographical location and geological age.
"Previous researchers have thought many of these things were the same seven identified species that had ranged for upwards of 20 million years, but that's not the case," Larson explained.
"These several different dinosaur faunas seemed to have not lasted any more than a couple million years each."
The small dinosaur skeletons don't preserve as well as the large ones, said Larson, and while the teeth are too small to accurately determine and name a specific new species of dinosaur right now, that doesn't mean they won't be named in the future.
Alberta has long been a rich resource for quality dinosaur remains, said Currie, and this new research shows future students that their work is cut out for them.
Just knowing that dinosaur diversity is greater than previously thought has even seasoned paleontologists like Currie excited by the idea of finding a perfectly preserved small, meat-eating dinosaur.
"It's going to happen," said Currie confidently. "It may take a long while because they're so rare but nevertheless it adds to the feeling of excitement in paleontology and of course, keeps us sharp when doing the research as well."
The study done by Currie and Larson -- who is now at the University of Toronto -- was published Wednesday in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.