Only A Few Birds Survived The Dinosaur-Killing Asteroid

Posted: May 27 2018, 4:04pm CDT | by , Updated: May 27 2018, 11:43pm CDT , in Latest Science News


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Only a Few Birds Survived the Dinosaur-Killing Asteroid
Credit: Phillip M. Krzeminski

The asteroid that killed dinosaurs also destroyed forests and bird species

Around 66 million years ago, a massive asteroid struck the Earth and caused dinosaurs to go extinct. The asteroid hit at a point near what is now called Chicxulub and generated force one million times larger than the largest atomic bomb.

The event sparked global wildfires. The fires destroyed trees and the birds that lived in them also died. The only birds that did survive were ground-dwellers. Those were the ancient relatives of modern ground birds such as kiwis and emus and had longer, sturdier legs. The asteroid impact not only wiped out dinosaurs but also 75 percent of all life on Earth.

"Looking at the fossil record, at plants and birds, there are multiple lines of evidence suggesting that the forest canopies collapsed," said co-author Regan Dunn, a paleontologist at the Field Museum in Chicago. "Perching birds went extinct because there were no more perches."

To understand the devastating impact of Chicxulub asteroid, researchers looked at the fossil record of pollens, spores, and birds. These fossils were collected from New Zealand, Japan, Europe and North America. Together, they provide a much clear picture of the impact.

"We drew on a variety of approaches to stitch this story together," said lead author Daniel Field from the University of Bath. "We concluded that the temporary elimination of forests in the aftermath of the asteroid impact explains why arboreal birds failed to survive across this extinction event. The ancestors of modern arboreal birds did not move into the trees until forests had recovered from the extinction-causing asteroid."

The spore and pollen data revealed a mass deforestation across the globe at the end of the Cretaceous period and an abundance of fern spores. Ferns mostly thrive after a disaster like a forest fire or a volcanic eruption. That’s because ferns sprout from spores. Spores are very small and can easily disperse in the absence of large trees.

“The spores are tiny -- you could fit four across a single strand of your hair," said Regan Dunn. "To see them, we take a sample of rock from the time frame just after the collision and dissolve it in acid. Then we purify it so that all that remains is the organic debris, like pollen, spores and little leaf bits, then we look at them under a microscope."

Among birds, only five groups survived the impact, including ancient relatives of ducks, chickens, and ostriches. Most of the lineages of modern birds have evolved from ground-dwelling birds.

“Today, birds are the most diverse and globally widespread group of terrestrial vertebrate animals -- there are nearly 11,000 living species," said Field. "Only a handful of ancestral bird lineages succeeded in surviving the mass extinction event 66 million years ago, and all of today's amazing living bird diversity can be traced to these ancient survivors."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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