herald

Monday 23 October 2017

Meteor that wiped out dinosaurs reset planet

Even Armageddon can have a silver lining, according to a new discovery about what followed the massive meteor impact that wiped out the dinosaurs.

Around 66 million years ago, a 10-kilometre wide asteroid or comet smashed into the Earth off Mexico's Yucatan peninsular, producing a crater 150 kilometres across.

Three quarters of all plant and animal species - including the dinosaurs - became extinct after the event which triggered mega-tsunami, wildfires, global earthquakes and an "impact winter" caused by dust blotting out the Sun.

But new research suggests the cataclysm proved a turning point for the deciduous plants that now dominate Earth.

IMPACT

After the impact, fast-growing deciduous species rapidly began to take over from the previously ubiquitous evergreens.

Dr Benjamin Blonder, from the University of Arizona in the US, said: "If you think about a mass extinction caused by a catastrophic event such as a meteorite impacting Earth, you might imagine all species are equally likely to die.

"Survival of the fittest doesn't apply - the impact is like a reset button. The alternative hypothesis, however, is that some species had properties that enabled them to survive.

"Our study provides evidence of a dramatic shift from slow-growing plants to fast-growing species. This tells us that the extinction was not random."

hnews@herald.ie

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