Massive volcanic eruptions wiped out the world's forests about 250 million years ago, leaving the planet teeming with wood-eating fungi, according to a new study.
The finding confirms that even hardy trees didn't survive the Permian mass extinction, one of the most devastating losses of life Earth has ever known.
During the so-called Great Dying, more than 95 percent of marine species and 70 percent of land species disappeared, most likely victims of toxic gases spewed by a prolonged volcanic eruption centered in present-day Siberia.
The eruption produced acid rain on a global scale and depleted the ozone layer, allowing more of the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays to hit the planet's surface.
Until now, researchers hadn't found much hard physical evidence for what had happened to plants during the mass extinction, so many had assumed that Permian forests survived relatively unscathed.
But the new study confirms that vegetation also suffered heavy casualties.
After the eruption, "the world would have been a strangely green place, with simple plants like club mosses, but also lots and lots of dead trees," said lead study author Mark Sephton, a geochemist at Imperial College London.
This recent finding shows researchers even plant life was affected by the mass extinction. Trees remained a rarity for the next 4 million years, researchers say. You can read more on this magnificent finding at National Geographic.
Transitional Pterosaur discovered
Date: Wednesday, October 14, 2009 - 16:55 PM (Eastern Time)
An amazing fossil of a new pterosaur has been discovered in northeast China. The pterosaur has been named Darwinopterus modularis- in honour of Charles Darwin- and it displays similarities between the smaller, more primitive Rhamphorynchoids and the later, more advanced Pterodactyloids. Experts believe it is the first clear example of a controversal idea called "modular evolution".
A sleek cousin of Tyrannosaurus rex has been unearthed in Asia's Gobi desert.
The discovery reveals that the fearsome "tyrant lizards," or tyrannosaurids, were much more diverse than thought.
"Instead of [its] big bad boy … relatives, this one is more like a ballerina," said study co-author Stephen Brusatte, a vertebrate paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
A well-preserved skull and a near-complete skeleton from the new species of eight-horned, long-snouted carnivore—dubbed Alioramus altai—were unearthed in 2001 in Mongolia.
The predator (seen at top in an artist's conception) lived in the hot, lush floodplains of the late Cretaceous, near the end of the age of dinosaurs, roughly 65 million years ago.
The creature had two short horns above each eye and two jutting downward from its cheeks—all four are also seen in T. rex.
Strangely, the beast also had up to two-inch-long (five-centimeter-long) horns sticking out of each cheek, "which have never been seen in any carnivorous dinosaur before," Brusatte said.
Too short for combat, these horns likely served as sexual ornaments to attract females.
Smaller than T. rex, the newfound species also possessed an unusually airy skeleton; lacked a skull built for the strong jaws seen in its larger cousins; and had thinner, steak knife-like teeth (skull pictured in a diagram above).
You can read more information on the new discovery here.