Image: Recreation of an asteroid hitting Earth.
About 66 million years ago, an asteroid slammed into Earth, causing a mass extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs. What happened in the years following the devastation has long been a mystery due to lack of evidence.
Now researchers have discovered clues thanks to a surprising find: insect damage to plants now fossilized in rock. The damage suggests that half of Earth recovered twice as fast as the other half.
"We compared insect damage diversity in Patagonia and Western Interior North America before and after the asteroid impact," lead researcher Michael Donovan of Pennsylvania State University explained to Seeker. "In both Patagonia and North America, we observed a decrease in insect damage diversity on fossil leaves that lived in the early Paleocene, after the asteroid hit Earth."
"However," he added, "in Patagonia, insect damage diversity increased to pre-extinction levels in 4 million years, much faster than the 9 million years it took in North America." Donovan and his team reported their findings in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.