Dinosaur extinction and bird evolution

This American Museum of Natural History video from the USA says about itself:

18 March 2016

This spellbinding animation from the Museum’s new exhibition “Dinosaurs Among Us” traces the evolutionary transition from dinosaurs to birds.

Based on recent scientific research that examines fossils using new technologies, the transformation story unfolds as low-polygonal silhouettes of dinosaurs morph from ground-dwelling animals into flight-capable birds. The mass extinction that erased most dinosaurs 65 million years ago left a few bird lineages unscathed. Within only 15 million years all of our familiar bird groups were flourishing. These extraordinary living dinosaurs provide a vivid link to the ancient past. The Museum’s new exhibition, “Dinosaurs Among Us,” explores the continuities between living dinosaurs—birds—and their extinct ancestors, showcasing remarkable new evidence for what scientists now call one of the best-documented evolutionary transitions in the history of life.

From Cornell University in the USA:

Dino-killing asteroid’s impact on bird evolution

September 21, 2017

Human activities could change the pace of evolution, similar to what occurred 66 million years ago when a giant asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs, leaving modern birds as their only descendants. That’s one conclusion drawn by the authors of a new study published in Systematic Biology.

Cornell University Ph.D. candidate Jacob Berv and University of Bath Prize Fellow Daniel Field suggest that the meteor-induced mass extinction (a.k.a. the K-Pg event) led to an acceleration in the rate of genetic evolution among its avian survivors. These survivors may have been much smaller than their pre-extinction relatives.

“There is good evidence that size reductions after mass extinctions may have occurred in many groups of organisms,” says Berv. “All of the new evidence we have reviewed is also consistent with a Lilliput Effect affecting birds across the K-Pg mass extinction.” Paleontologists have dubbed this phenomenon the “Lilliput Effect” — a nod to the classic tale Gulliver’s Travels.

“Smaller birds tend to have faster metabolic rates and shorter generation times,” Field explains. “Our hypothesis is that these important biological characters, which affect the rate of DNA evolution, may have been influenced by the K-Pg event.”

The researchers jumped into this line of inquiry because of the long-running “rocks and clocks” debate. Different studies often report substantial discrepancies between age estimates for groups of organisms implied by the fossil record and estimates generated by molecular clocks. Molecular clocks use the rate at which DNA sequences change to estimate how long ago new species arose, assuming a relatively steady rate of genetic evolution. But if the K-Pg extinction caused avian molecular clocks to temporarily speed up, Berv and Field say this could explain at least some of the mismatch. “Size reductions across the K-Pg extinction would be predicted to do exactly that,” says Berv.

“The bottom line is that, by speeding up avian genetic evolution, the K-Pg mass extinction may have temporarily altered the rate of the avian molecular clock,” says Field. “Similar processes may have influenced the evolution of many groups across this extinction event, like plants, mammals, and other forms of life.”

The authors suggest that human activity may even be driving a similar Lilliput-like pattern in the modern world, as more and more large animals go extinct because of hunting, habitat destruction, and climate change.

“Right now, the planet’s large animals are being decimated — the big cats, elephants, rhinos, and whales,” notes Berv. “We need to start thinking about conservation not just in terms of functional biodiversity loss, but about how our actions will affect the future of evolution itself.”

The Chicxulub asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs likely released far more climate-altering sulfur gas into the atmosphere than originally thought, according to new research: here.

Underwater volcanoes may have contributed to dinosaur extinction. Volcanic activity triggered by meteorite impact could have added to environmental catastrophe that killed majority of life on Earth 66 million years ago: here.

The Chicxulub asteroid impact might have set off 100,000 years of global warming. The hit caused the release of carbon dioxide, driving temperatures to rise, researchers say. By Laurel Hamers, 3:13pm, May 24, 2018.

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