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Asteroid That Wiped Out Dinosaurs Allowed Flowers to Thrive

Asteroid Wiped out Dinosaurs
An artist’s impression of an asteroid that wiped out dinosaurs but let flowers thrive. Credit: Donald E. Davis / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

A recent study reveals that even though a massive asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period, it didn’t harm the flowers much. In fact, after the asteroid hit, the flowers bloomed.

About sixty-six million years ago, a huge asteroid hit the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. This event caused a lot of damage to our planet, including the extinction of three-quarters of all living species and the dinosaurs. Scientists consider this a really big event in Earth’s history, the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) mass extinction event.

New research, published on September 13th in the journal Biology Letters, used new computer simulations to show that even though the asteroid caused a lot of damage, the big groups of flowering plants, known as angiosperms, were able to adapt and make it through tough times.

The lead author of the study, Jamie Thompson, who is a biologist at the University of Bath in England, explained that after most of Earth’s species died out during the K-Pg event, angiosperms, or flowering plants, seized the opportunity.

This is somewhat like how mammals became dominant after the dinosaurs. Today, almost all life on Earth relies on flowering plants for survival.

Difficulty in the study of ancient flower fossils

Scientists face a challenge when it comes to recognizing ancient flowering plants in fossils. A 2008 study, published in The Paleontological Society Papers journal, revealed that the fossil record mainly consists of individual leaves that aren’t connected to other parts of the plant.

While there is proof that some flowering plants disappeared after the asteroid impact, unlike other groups of organisms, there isn’t clear evidence of a widespread decline in flowering plants.

To better understand how flowering plants reacted to the K-Pg extinction event, the researchers of the new study examined significant branches of flowering plants that had been identified through the study of DNA changes in thousands of species.

They employed mathematical models to make estimations, which indicated that flowering plants had a fairly consistent rate of extinction over time. There was no sign of a massive extinction event.

This means that although certain individual species were lost during the event, the larger groups of plant families managed to survive, as revealed by the study.

The majority of today’s known flowering plant families actually appeared before the K-Pg event. It can be inferred that the ancestors of modern plants such as orchids, magnolias, and mint were alive at the same time as the dinosaurs. After the K-Pg extinction, the surviving flowering plants spread out and became more diverse, reported Live Science.

One of the study’s co-authors, Santiago Ramírez-Barahona, who is a researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, pointed out this remarkable adaptability of flowering plants.

He explained that they use various methods for dispersing their seeds and pollination. Some of them have even duplicated their entire genetic material, while others have developed new ways to carry out photosynthesis.

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