The dinosaurs of the Cretaceous may have faced an unexpected hazard: fire! In a paper published online today, researchers from Royal Holloway University of London and The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago have shown that during the Cretaceous (145-65 million years ago) fire was much more widespread than previously thought.
The researchers traced fire activity in the fossil record through the occurrence of charcoal deposits, compiling a global database for this time interval. "Charcoal is the remnant of the plants that were burnt and is easily preserved in the fossil record," explained Professor Andrew C. Scott, the project leader from Royal Holloway.
This period was a greenhouse world where global temperatures were higher than those of today. Lightning strikes would have been the main trigger for these wildfires, but this period was also one when atmospheric oxygen levels were high.
Ian Glasspool from The Field Museum and one of the report authors, points out that this "was why fires were so widespread. As at such periods – unlike today – plants with higher moisture contents could burn."
The prevalence of fires throughout the Cretaceous would have created a more disturbed environment. Professor Scott highlighted that, "Until now, few have taken into account the impact that fires would have had on the environment, not only destroying the vegetation but also exacerbating run-off and erosion and promoting subsequent flooding following storms." These past events may give some insights into how increased fire activity today may impact the world we live in.
The research also shows that charcoal may often be associated with dinosaur deposits. Sarah Brown, a PhD student on the project and lead author, commented, "When I first started my research in Dinosaur Provincial Park in Canada nobody had seen any charcoal but quickly I was able to see it everywhere, including associated with dinosaur bone beds, it was incredible".
The researchers are now assessing the impact that these fires would have had upon dinosaur communities. The research is published in the journal Cretaceous Research.
The paper, entitled "Cretaceous wildfires and their impact on the Earth system" is published in Cretaceous Research doi:10.1016/j.cretres.2012.02.008
Field Museum: http://www.fieldmuseum.org
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
The winners of the 2014 Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition capture a rat brain, the mouthparts of a vampire moth and other small wonders
By analysing brain activity linked to hand and arm movements, a team has created a robotic arm that a paralysed woman can control with her thoughts
Adding laser tips to ordinary shoes can improve the stride and pace of people with Parkinson's disease
Technique could someday help repair injuries
Tiny microbes uncovered by the deepest-ever marine drilling expedition are analysed by scientists to see how they can survive under the seabed.
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Speed, smarts, and the heart of a champion: using genomic analysis, scientists have identified DNA changes that helped turn ancient horses such as those in prehistoric cave art into today's Secretariats and Black Beautys, researchers reported Monday.
While their parents are off fishing, penguin chicks set up their own self-monitored babysitting service
Scientists have found the SS City of Rio de Janeiro, the most famous of San Francisco’s many lost ships, and produced 3-D sonar maps of the wreck.
Genome analysis of the two Antarctic-breeding penguins reveal the differing fate global warming might have on the iconic emperors and Adélies
A virtual replica of the first complete skull of a mysterious mammal is revealing the structure of its bizarre bones