The collapse of rainforest ecosystems 300 million years ago led to the diversification of reptiles, according to researchers in England. This eventually led to the rise of the dinosaurs, 100 million years later.

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North America and Europe were connected in that age, known as the Carboniferous Period. The landmass straddled the equator and was covered in lush rainforests. But a period of global warming and drying broke the forest into patches.

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Researchers at the Universities of London and Bristol counted the number of reptile species before and after this event. They found a wider variety of reptiles feeding on different foods after the demise of the rainforests.

“This is a classic ecological response to habitat fragmentation,” said one author of the study, Mike Benton of the University of Bristol. As the populations became isolated, they diverged into separate species. The same thing happened to the animals and plants Charles Darwin observed on the Galapagos Islands.

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“Life may not be so lucky again in the future, should the Amazon rainforest collapse,” said Sarda Sahney, another author of the study.

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PHOTO: The Earth 300 million years ago; Wikimedia Commons