You can see the original article here from The Telegraph.
The takeaway is that the dinosaurs, like the cows of today, would have produced a substantial amount of methane. Unlike our cows, though, the dinosaurs were huge, ranging in length up to 150 feet and in weight over 45 tonnes. The research suggests that dino-produced methane would have been around 472 million tonnes per year, compared to the (comparatively) recent pre-industrial average of 181 million tonnes per year. Incidentally, the article suggests that man-made emissions now match dinosaur flatulence and . . . I’ll leave you to make the obvious jokes about that one (if you have any good ones, feel free to comment!).
I don’t want people to get the wrong idea – this is not directly related to the extinction of the dinosaurs. They didn’t warm the Earth so much that they ended up undermining their own ecology. Instead, the extra warmth actually helped them, creating a stable equilibrium. The climate we evolved in is not rich enough to sustain creatures as large as the dinosaurs. In a warmer climate, though, the available zones for rainforests and other foliage-rich regions would have been broader, and the extent of unproductive arctic ice narrower. In other words, the fact that dinosaurs emitted extra methane led to a virtuous cycle that increased their own potential size (up to a certain limit, of course).
There was a downside, though. Their size made them dependent on the high productivity of the land. That meant that even a minor change in the climate produced by the extinction event would have led to a marginal reduction in the sustainability of the dinosaur population. Say the climate changed enough to reduce the food supply by only two to three percent. Well, that means two to three percent less methane emissions, and therefore a further cooling of the atmosphere. As the atmosphere cooled more, a downward spiral would have ensued, leading to the extinction of the dinosaurs. So, even though their flatulence was actually beneficial to them, it may have also set up the particular nature of their downfall.
Will the seeds of our success as a species do the same?