Prehistoric Forest Fire Could Help Researchers Understand Biodiversity Before Dinosaur Extinction
Jun 06, 2014 04:04 PM EDT
Researchers found evidence of a wildfire that occurred 66-million years ago.
“Excavating plant fossils preserved in rocks deposited during the last days of the dinosaurs, we found some preserved with abundant fossilized charcoal and others without it. From this, we were able to reconstruct what the Cretaceous forests looked like with and without fire disturbance,” Hans Larsson, Canada Research Chair in Macroevolution at McGill University, said in the news release.
The plant-life present at the site was similar to those that would pop up in an area that was recovering from a fire. Researchers believe ancient forests recovered from fires similarly than they do today. Plants such as “alder, birch, and sassafras “would have grown in the early stages of recovery and sequoia and ginkgo would have appeared as the recovery progressed.
“We were looking at the direct result of a 66-million-year old forest fire, preserved in stone,” Emily Bamforth, of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum and the study’s first author, said in the news release. “Moreover, we now have evidence that the mean annual temperature in southern Saskatchewan was 10-12 degrees Celsius warmer than today, with almost six times as much precipitation.”
“The abundant plant fossils also allowed us for the first time to estimate climate conditions for the closing period of the dinosaurs in southwestern Canada, and provides one more clue to reveal what the ecology was like just before they went extinct,” Larsson, who is also an Associate Professor at the Redpath Museum said.
Forest fires can have a huge effect on biodiversity in both the plant and animal kingdoms. This type of research could help researchers gain insight into the state of biodiversity directly before the extinction of the dinosaurs. “We won’t be able to fully understand the extinction dynamics until we understand what normal ecological processes were going on in the background.” Larsson said.