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All snakes evolved from a few species that survived Cretaceous asteroid strike, study finds

TORONTO – A new study from the University of Bath in the UK suggests that all modern snakes evolved from a few species that managed to survive the impact of a giant asteroid that wiped out dinosaurs and Most living things at the end of the Cretaceous period, between 145.5 and 65.5 million years ago.

The Cretaceous period marked the last period of what is called the Mesozoic era, after the Jurassic period and ended with the extinction of the dinosaurs.

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, indicates that the mass extinction from the impact of the asteroid was a form of “creative destruction” that allowed snakes to diversify their evolutionary processes, and that snake species began to diversify around this time.

The researchers, led by scientists at the University of Bath with collaborators from Bristol and Cambridge in the UK and Germany, used fossils and analysis of genetic differences between modern snakes to build an evolutionary reconstruction snakes, which helped determine when modern snakes evolved.

The results of the study show that all living snakes, over 4,000 species, can be traced back to a handful of species that survived the impact of asteroids 66 million years ago.

The researchers postulate that the snakes’ ability to shelter underground and forgo food for long periods of time helped them survive the destructive effects of the impact. The subsequent destruction of their competitors during the time of the strike allowed snake species at the time to spread to new habitats and continents – stimulating evolutionary processes.

This advantage allowed snakes to produce lineages like vipers, cobras, garter snakes and pythons, according to the study, and notes that modern snake species, including arboreal snakes, sea snakes, cobras and boas, did not emerge until after the extinction of the dinosaurs.

The study notes that there is a distinct change in the shape of snake vertebrae in fossils from the period following the asteroid strike, which has contributed to the emergence of new groups of species, including snakes. giant sea waves up to 10 meters long, according to a statement.

“This is remarkable because not only do they survive an extinction that wipes out so many other animals, but within millions of years they are innovating using their habitats in new ways,” said lead author Dr Catherine Klein, in the press release.

The study also suggests that snakes began to spread across the world during this time, and although the ancestors of living snakes “probably lived in the southern hemisphere,” the snakes appear to have spread to Asia afterwards. extinction of the impact of the asteroid.

“Our research suggests that extinction acted as a form of ‘creative destruction’ – by wiping out old species, it allowed survivors to exploit ecosystem gaps, experimenting with new ways of life and habitats.” study author Nick Longrich said in the statement.

“This seems to be a general feature of evolution – these are the periods immediately after major extinctions where we see evolution at its most wildly experimental and innovative,” he continued. “The destruction of biodiversity makes room for new things to emerge and colonize new land masses. Ultimately, life becomes even more diverse than before.

The researchers also found evidence of a second diversification event around the time the Earth went from a hot “greenhouse Earth” to a cold “Icehouse” climate, which sparked the start. of the Ice Age and saw the formation of polar ice caps.

The study says the pattern the researchers found in the evolution of snakes indicates how global disasters with severe and rapid environmental disruption can cause evolutionary change.


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