A 10-kilometer wide meteorite spelled doom for about three-quarters of all plants and animals about 66 million years ago. It hit the Earth off the Yucatan peninsula near Mexico, leaving a crater about 100 miles across. It had the impact of 100 teratons of bomb. The meteorite strike triggered a widespread mega-tsunami, volcanism, wildfires, and worldwide earthquakes. It wiped out dinosaurs from our planet.
Deciduous species began dominating after the meteorite strike
However, a new study suggests that the meteorite that spelled doom for dinosaurs proved great for deciduous plants that dominate our planet’s vegetation today. The impact decimated evergreen, slow-growing plant species, making way for deciduous species. The study was published in the journal PLOS Biology.
Scientists at the University of Arizona said that deciduous plants’ properties helped them better respond to the post-apocalyptic environmental conditions. Researchers, led by Benjamin Blonder, studied more than 1,000 fossilized leaves collected from the Hell Creek Formation in southern North Dakota. The Hell Creek Formation was a lowland floodplain at the end of the Cretaceous period.
The meteorite wiped out over 50% of all plants
They applied biomechanical formulas to leaves of flowering plants in order to reconstruct the ecology of plants that thrived during the 2.2 million years period following the catastrophic event. Researchers estimate the meteorite strike wiped out more than 50% of all plant species on the Earth. The leaf samples span the last 1.4 million years of the Cretaceous period and first 800,000 years of the Paleogene. The study revealed that, after the meteorite strike, the fast-growing, deciduous plants had replaced most of their evergreen, slow-growing peers.
But there are still a few living examples of evergreen angiosperms such as ivy and holly. These plants don’t grow very fast; they prefer shade, and have dark-colored leaves. Blonder said today’s forests around the world are dominated by deciduous species, not evergreen plants. Blonder said his study provided evidence of a dramatic shift from slow-growing species to fast-growing plants.