Asteroid impact, not volcanism, caused the end-Cretaceous dinosaur extinction.
ABSTRACT: The Cretaceous/Paleogene mass extinction, 66 Ma, included the demise of non-avian dinosaurs. Intense debate has focused on the relative roles of Deccan volcanism and the Chicxulub asteroid impact as kill mechanisms for this event. Here, we combine fossil-occurrence data with paleoclimate and habitat suitability models to evaluate dinosaur habitability in the wake of various asteroid impact and Deccan volcanism scenarios. Asteroid impact models generate a prolonged cold winter that suppresses potential global dinosaur habitats. Conversely, long-term forcing from Deccan volcanism (carbon dioxide [CO2]-induced warming) leads to increased habitat suitability. Short-term (aerosol cooling) volcanism still allows equatorial habitability. These results support the asteroid impact as the main driver of the non-avian dinosaur extinction. By contrast, induced warming from volcanism mitigated the most extreme effects of asteroid impact, potentially reducing the extinction severity.
Project description:The cause of the end-Cretaceous (KPg) mass extinction is still debated due to difficulty separating the influences of two closely timed potential causal events: eruption of the Deccan Traps volcanic province and impact of the Chicxulub meteorite. Here we combine published extinction patterns with a new clumped isotope temperature record from a hiatus-free, expanded KPg boundary section from Seymour Island, Antarctica. We document a 7.8±3.3?°C warming synchronous with the onset of Deccan Traps volcanism and a second, smaller warming at the time of meteorite impact. Local warming may have been amplified due to simultaneous disappearance of continental or sea ice. Intra-shell variability indicates a possible reduction in seasonality after Deccan eruptions began, continuing through the meteorite event. Species extinction at Seymour Island occurred in two pulses that coincide with the two observed warming events, directly linking the end-Cretaceous extinction at this site to both volcanic and meteorite events via climate change.
Project description:Debate continues about the nature of the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) mass extinction event. An abrupt crisis triggered by a bolide impact contrasts with ideas of a more gradual extinction involving flood volcanism or climatic changes. Evidence from high latitudes has also been used to suggest that the severity of the extinction decreased from low latitudes towards the poles. Here we present a record of the K-Pg extinction based on extensive assemblages of marine macrofossils (primarily new data from benthic molluscs) from a highly expanded Cretaceous-Paleogene succession: the López de Bertodano Formation of Seymour Island, Antarctica. We show that the extinction was rapid and severe in Antarctica, with no significant biotic decline during the latest Cretaceous, contrary to previous studies. These data are consistent with a catastrophic driver for the extinction, such as bolide impact, rather than a significant contribution from Deccan Traps volcanism during the late Maastrichtian.
Project description:Pelagic ecosystem function is integral to global biogeochemical cycling, and plays a major role in modulating atmospheric CO2 concentrations (pCO2). Uncertainty as to the effects of human activities on marine ecosystem function hinders projection of future atmospheric pCO2 To this end, events in the geological past can provide informative case studies in the response of ecosystem function to environmental and ecological changes. Around the Cretaceous-Palaeogene (K-Pg) boundary, two such events occurred: Deccan large igneous province (LIP) eruptions and massive bolide impact at the Yucatan Peninsula. Both perturbed the environment, but only the impact coincided with marine mass extinction. As such, we use these events to directly contrast the response of marine biogeochemical cycling to environmental perturbation with and without changes in global species richness. We measure this biogeochemical response using records of deep-sea carbonate preservation. We find that Late Cretaceous Deccan volcanism prompted transient deep-sea carbonate dissolution of a larger magnitude and timescale than predicted by geochemical models. Even so, the effect of volcanism on carbonate preservation was slight compared with bolide impact. Empirical records and geochemical models support a pronounced increase in carbonate saturation state for more than 500 000 years following the mass extinction of pelagic carbonate producers at the K-Pg boundary. These examples highlight the importance of pelagic ecosystems in moderating climate and ocean chemistry.
Project description:The sudden environmental catastrophe in the wake of the end-Cretaceous asteroid impact had drastic effects that rippled through animal communities. To explore how these effects may have been exacerbated by prior ecological changes, we used a food-web model to simulate the effects of primary productivity disruptions, such as those predicted to result from an asteroid impact, on ten Campanian and seven Maastrichtian terrestrial localities in North America. Our analysis documents that a shift in trophic structure between Campanian and Maastrichtian communities in North America led Maastrichtian communities to experience more secondary extinction at lower levels of primary production shutdown and possess a lower collapse threshold than Campanian communities. Of particular note is the fact that changes in dinosaur richness had a negative impact on the robustness of Maastrichtian ecosystems against environmental perturbations. Therefore, earlier ecological restructuring may have exacerbated the impact and severity of the end-Cretaceous extinction, at least in North America.
Project description:The climate and environmental significance of the Deccan Traps large igneous province of west-central India has been the subject of debate in paleontological communities. Nearly one million years of semi-continuous Deccan eruptive activity spanned the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary, which is renowned for the extinction of most dinosaur groups. Whereas the Chicxulub impactor is acknowledged as the principal cause of these extinctions, the Deccan Traps eruptions are believed to have contributed to extinction patterns and/or enhanced ecological pressures on biota during this interval of geologic time. We present the first coupled records of biogenic carbonate clumped isotope paleothermometry and mercury concentrations as measured from a broad geographic distribution of marine mollusk fossils. These fossils preserve evidence of simultaneous increases in coastal marine temperatures and mercury concentrations at a global scale, which appear attributable to volcanic CO2 and mercury emissions. These early findings warrant further investigation with additional records of combined Late Cretaceous temperatures and mercury concentrations of biogenic carbonate.
Project description:In the lead-up to the Cretaceous/Paleogene mass extinction, dinosaur diversity is argued to have been either in long-term decline, or thriving until their sudden demise. The latest Cretaceous (Campanian-Maastrichtian [83-66 Ma]) of North America provides the best record to address this debate, but even here diversity reconstructions are biased by uneven sampling. Here we combine fossil occurrences with climatic and environmental modelling to quantify latest Cretaceous North American dinosaur habitat. Ecological niche modelling shows a Campanian-to-Maastrichtian habitability decrease in areas with present-day rock-outcrop. However, a continent-wide projection demonstrates habitat stability, or even a Campanian-to-Maastrichtian increase, that is not preserved. This reduction of the spatial sampling window resulted from formation of the proto-Rocky Mountains and sea-level regression. We suggest that Maastrichtian North American dinosaur diversity is therefore likely to be underestimated, with the apparent decline a product of sampling bias, and not due to a climatically-driven decrease in habitability as previously hypothesised.
Project description:Sixty-six million years ago, an asteroid approximately 9?km in diameter hit the hydrocarbon- and sulfur-rich sedimentary rocks in what is now Mexico. Recent studies have shown that this impact at the Yucatan Peninsula heated the hydrocarbon and sulfur in these rocks, forming stratospheric soot and sulfate aerosols and causing extreme global cooling and drought. These events triggered a mass extinction, including dinosaurs, and led to the subsequent macroevolution of mammals. The amount of hydrocarbon and sulfur in rocks varies widely, depending on location, which suggests that cooling and extinction levels were dependent on impact site. Here we show that the probability of significant global cooling, mass extinction, and the subsequent appearance of mammals was quite low after an asteroid impact on the Earth's surface. This significant event could have occurred if the asteroid hit the hydrocarbon-rich areas occupying approximately 13% of the Earth's surface. The site of asteroid impact, therefore, changed the history of life on Earth.
Project description:The Late Triassic and Early Toarcian extinction events are both associated with greenhouse warming events triggered by massive volcanism. These Mesozoic hyperthermals were responsible for the mass extinction of marine organisms and resulted in significant ecological upheaval. It has, however, been suggested that these events merely involved intensification of background extinction rates rather than significant shifts in the macroevolutionary regime and extinction selectivity. Here, we apply a multivariate modelling approach to a vast global database of marine organisms to test whether extinction selectivity varied through the Late Triassic and Early Jurassic. We show that these hyperthermals do represent shifts in the macroevolutionary regime and record different extinction selectivity compared to background intervals of the Late Triassic and Early Jurassic. The Late Triassic mass extinction represents a more profound change in selectivity than the Early Toarcian extinction but both events show a common pattern of selecting against pelagic predators and benthic photosymbiotic and suspension-feeding organisms, suggesting that these groups of organisms may be particularly vulnerable during episodes of global warming. In particular, the Late Triassic extinction represents a macroevolutionary regime change that is characterized by (i) the change in extinction selectivity between Triassic background intervals and the extinction event itself; and (ii) the differences in extinction selectivity between the Late Triassic and Early Jurassic as a whole.
Project description:The effect of the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) (formerly Cretaceous-Tertiary, K-T) mass extinction on avian evolution is debated, primarily because of the poor fossil record of Late Cretaceous birds. In particular, it remains unclear whether archaic birds became extinct gradually over the course of the Cretaceous or whether they remained diverse up to the end of the Cretaceous and perished in the K-Pg mass extinction. Here, we describe a diverse avifauna from the latest Maastrichtian of western North America, which provides definitive evidence for the persistence of a range of archaic birds to within 300,000 y of the K-Pg boundary. A total of 17 species are identified, including 7 species of archaic bird, representing Enantiornithes, Ichthyornithes, Hesperornithes, and an Apsaravis-like bird. None of these groups are known to survive into the Paleogene, and their persistence into the latest Maastrichtian therefore provides strong evidence for a mass extinction of archaic birds coinciding with the Chicxulub asteroid impact. Most of the birds described here represent advanced ornithurines, showing that a major radiation of Ornithurae preceded the end of the Cretaceous, but none can be definitively referred to the Neornithes. This avifauna is the most diverse known from the Late Cretaceous, and although size disparity is lower than in modern birds, the assemblage includes both smaller forms and some of the largest volant birds known from the Mesozoic, emphasizing the degree to which avian diversification had proceeded by the end of the age of dinosaurs.
Project description:For the purpose of this review, 'time-lapse' refers to the reconstruction of ancestral (in this case dinosaur) karyotypes using genome assemblies of extant species. Such reconstructions are only usually possible when genomes are assembled to 'chromosome level' i.e. a complete representation of all the sequences, correctly ordered contiguously on each of the chromosomes. Recent paleontological evidence is very clear that birds are living dinosaurs, the latest example of dinosaurs emerging from a catastrophic extinction event. Non-avian dinosaurs (ever present in the public imagination through art, and broadcast media) emerged some 240 million years ago and have displayed incredible phenotypic diversity. Here we report on our recent studies to infer the overall karyotype of the Theropod dinosaur lineage from extant avian chromosome level genome assemblies. Our work first focused on determining the likely karyotype of the avian ancestor (most likely a chicken-sized, two-legged, feathered, land dinosaur from the Jurassic period) finding karyotypic similarity to the chicken. We then took the work further to determine the likely karyotype of the bird-lizard ancestor and the chromosomal changes (chiefly translocations and inversions) that occurred between then and modern birds. A combination of bioinformatics and cross-species fluorescence in situ hybridization (zoo-FISH) uncovered a considerable number of translocations and fissions from a 'lizard-like' genome structure of 2n?=?36-46 to one similar to that of soft-shelled turtles (2n?=?66) from 275 to 255 million years ago (mya). Remarkable karyotypic similarities between some soft-shelled turtles and chicken suggests that there were few translocations from the bird-turtle ancestor (plus ?7 fissions) through the dawn of the dinosaurs and pterosaurs, through the theropod linage and on to most to modern birds. In other words, an avian-like karyotype was in place about 240mya when the dinosaurs and pterosaurs first emerged. We mapped 49 chromosome inversions from then to the present day, uncovering some gene ontology enrichment in evolutionary breakpoint regions. This avian-like karyotype with its many (micro)chromosomes provides the basis for variation (the driver of natural selection) through increased random segregation and recombination. It may therefore contribute to the ability of dinosaurs to survive multiple extinction events, emerging each time as speciose and diverse.