How Birds, Crocs Escaped Prehistoric Extinction

One-way breathing pattern points to common ancestor
By Jane Yager,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 18, 2010 9:49 AM CST
Alligators stands along the banks of the Tachas River in Recreios dos Bandeirantes neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, Friday, Aug. 28, 2009.   (AP Photo/Ricardo Moraes)
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(Newser) – In the midst of the planet's worst-ever wave of extinction some 250 million years ago, the ancestors of birds and alligators managed to survive thanks to a shared breathing mechanism that enabled them to weather low oxygen levels. New research shows that when birds and alligators breathe, air flows in one direction rather than in and out of chambers—an efficient way of breathing that would have come in handy in the late Triassic period when oxygen was in short supply, BBC reports.

One of the researchers behind the study said the breathing pattern "might explain a mystery that has been around for quite some time:" how archosaurs, the common ancestors of dinosaurs, birds, and crocodiles, came to dominate earth after the extinction wave. The research also solves another puzzle by explaining why birds and alligators have similar lung structures.

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