Dinosaurs are believed to have gone extinct after an asteroid catastrophically hit Earth 66 million years ago. And a study by the University of Michigan (USA) published last Monday (11), points out that, at the time, some creatures survived, including certain rat-sized mammals that would later diversify into more than 6,000 species of mammals. that exist today.
This study suggests that ground-dwelling mammals were better able to survive than tree-dwelling mammals, due to the global devastation of forests that followed the asteroid impact. The mammalian analysis was published in the journal Ecology and Evolution and is a continuation of a 2018 bird study. The two articles highlight the influence of this mass extinction in shaping the early evolutionary trajectories of today’s vertebrate animals.
According to the work, the impact of the asteroid triggered a pulse of heat that generated forest fires around the world. In addition, dense clouds of debris and soot were ejected into the atmosphere, cooling the planet and likely blocking sunlight as acid rain fell.
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“The large-scale devastation of forest environments resulting from the asteroid impact has likely influenced the evolutionary trajectories of various groups, including terrestrial mammals. Our findings are consistent with the hypothesis that these mammals preferentially survived this mass extinction,” say the researchers.
To reach that conclusion, the researchers performed statistical analyzes of the ecological habits of modern mammals to determine whether their ancestors were more likely to live in trees than in soil. These analyzes showed that the mammals that survived the late Cretaceous mass extinction were mostly soil dwellers. The full study can be found on here.
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