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Dinosaur-era forest fire evidence sheds light on ancient biodiversity

7 June 2014, 11:24 pm EDT By Lori Sandoval Tech Times
A team of researchers have discovered that ancient forests recovered from wildfires the same way our forests today recover from it, thanks to fossil evidence. Here’s what they have to say.  ( McGill University / Facebook )

Researchers from McGill University and Royal Saskatchewan Museum recently uncovered the very first fossil-based evidence of ancient forest fire ecology, or plant regrowth after fire, during their expedition in southern Saskatchewan, Canada.

The team of researchers found the fossil that shows Earth’s ecology prior to the mass extinction of dinosaurs 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, says in a statement.

Evidence indicates that ancient forests recovered from wildfires in the same manner that forests do today. It also shows that the plants at an ancient forest fire site were dominated by flora somehow similar to the kind that currently brings about recovery of forest after a fire.

The researchers explain that recovery of ancient forest is similar to the current recovery in our forests, noting that plants such as sassafras, birch and alder are present in the early stages while ginkgo and sequoia are existent in mature forests.

Further, they likewise unveiled evidence demonstrating the climate of the region was much wetter and warmer than the current state.

“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,” says Emily Bamforth in a statement, who is first author of said study and from Royal Saskatchewan Museum.

Also an associate professor at Redpath Museum, Larsson says that the abundance of plant fossils gave them the opportunity to evaluate climate conditions during the closing dinosaur era in southwestern Canada as well as provided another clue on early ecology before these dinosaurs went extinct.

Findings of the study on ancient ecological recovery from forest fire, according to the researchers, will help widen the understanding of scientists regarding biodiversity just before dinosaur’s extinction. Researches also say both animal and plant biodiversity are affected by forest fires.

“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 says.

The study, titled “Paleoclimate estimates and fire ecology immediately prior to the end-Cretaceous mass extinction in the Frenchman Formation (66 Ma), Saskatchewan, Canada,” is accessible here.

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