In the famous words of Ian Malcolm, the charismatic mathematician played by Jeff Goldblum in the 1993 Sci-Fi thriller Jurassic Park, life always finds a way. And, according to recent findings, it doesn’t take too long for that to happen.
A new study uncovered that life found a way to recover only 10 years after the dinosaurs were obliterated, reports Forbes.
The research, published yesterday in the journal Nature, uncovered that life re-spawned in the Chicxulub crater “surprisingly fast” after the dinosaur extinction — about 10 times faster than in other impact craters around the world.
After the Chicxulub asteroid hammered our planet some 66 million years ago and wiped out all dinosaurs except the avian ones, destroying nearly 75 percent of life on Earth, the first to return to the area — the Cretaceous-period region that is now the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico — were small shrimp and worms.
These creatures were already busy burrowing inside the walls of the submerged impact crater two to three years after the asteroid struck, notes Phys.org.
“We found life in the crater within a few years of impact, which is really fast, surprisingly fast,” said study lead author Chris Lowery, from the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics.
“It shows that there’s not a lot of predictability of recovery in general,” Lowery pointed out, referring to the widespread theory that life takes longer to recolonize the sites closest to an asteroid impact due to the release of harmful substances, such as toxic metals, that poison the environment.
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The revelation comes from a 2016 expedition that drilled into the Chicxulub crater and yielded a unique core sample unveiling what happened on the seafloor after the asteroid impact.
Aside from the shrimp and worm burrows, the team found an abundance of microfossils in the core sample, revealing that the crater was teeming with algae and phytoplankton 30,000 years after the dinosaur-killing asteroid hit.
These microorganisms supported a thriving ecosystem, which encompassed a rich community of creatures that dwelled in the surface waters and on the seafloor.
“Microfossils let you get at this complete community picture of what’s going on,” Lowery explained.
“You get a chunk of rock and there’s thousands of microfossils there, so we can look at changes in the population with a really high degree of confidence… and we can use that as kind of a proxy for the larger scale organisms,” he added.
This incredibly fast recovery is even more astounding considering that in similar impact craters in the Gulf of Mexico and in the North Atlantic life needed up to 300,000 years to make a strong comeback.
The striking thing about the core sample retrieved from the Chicxulub crater two years ago is that it’s packed with layered material more than 130-meters (close to 430 feet) thick. By comparison, other core samples taken from different parts of the ocean only accumulated a few millimeters of deposited material.
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As co-author Timothy Bralower explains, this highly valuable sample encapsulates a record of the goings-on in the seafloor environment starting from several days to several years after the Chicxulub crater was formed.
“We have a fossil record here where we’re able to resolve daily, weekly, monthly, yearly changes,” says Bralower, who is a professor of micropaleontology at Pennsylvania State University.
This new study suggests that the rhythm in which life rebounds after a major cataclysm is largely influenced by local factors, such as water circulation, the existence of suitable ecological niches for different species, and how these species manage to with each other.
According to Lowery, these findings uncover an important lesson in terms of ecosystem recovery and could help us learn more about how marine life would replenish after the current threat of climate change, Science Magazine reports.
“It’s probably the only event that happened faster than modern climate change and pollution. It might be an important analog for the recovery of biodiversity after we finally curtail carbon dioxide emissions and pollution.”