Flowering plants survived the cataclysm that killed the dinosaurs without major losses. The latest research shows that these organisms cleverly took advantage of the opportunity of the extinction of 75 percent of species inhabiting the Earth to take over deserted habitats. Thanks to this, they gained an advantage over all other plants.
Throughout Earth’s history, there have been several mass extinctions – catastrophic events that result in the loss of many species in a relatively short period of time. The most famous one occurred 66 million years ago as a result of an asteroid impact. The Cretaceous extinction eliminated at least 75 percent of all species on Earth, ending the era of dinosaurs. As a study published in the journal “Biology Letters” shows, it did not bring destruction to all groups of organisms.
They survived and gained the upper hand
Researchers from Mexico and the United Kingdom analyzed how the great Cretaceous extinction event affected the most widespread clade of plants on Earth – angiosperms. Of the approximately 400,000 known species, almost 300,000 belong to this group. Similar studies have not been conducted so far due to their high degree of complexity. Plants do not have skeletons, which means that fossils are relatively rare compared to animals.
Instead, scientists analyzed the evolution of mutations in the DNA sequences of 73,000 species that currently exist on Earth, trying to trace when their ancestors first appeared. Using statistical models, they managed to estimate the rate of development and extinction of entire evolutionary lines. As the analysis showed, the vast majority of today’s angiosperm families existed before the Cretaceous extinction. The ancestors of plants such as orchids, magnolias and mint shared the Earth with dinosaurs.
“After most species on Earth became extinct, angiosperms took over the plant world,” said Jamie Thompson of the University of Bath, co-author of the study. – Now almost all life on Earth depends ecologically on flowering plants.
What is the secret to the evolutionary success of angiosperms? As Santiago Ramirez-Barahona from the National University of Mexico, co-author of the analysis, explained, these plants have an extraordinary ability to adapt: they use different seed dispersal and pollination mechanisms, some have duplicated their entire genomes, and others have developed completely new methods of photosynthesis.
– This “flower power” makes them true champions of survival in nature – explained the scientist.
University of Bath, Encyclopedia Britannica
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