KEY POINTS

  • An asteroid impact 66 million years ago killed over 70% of life on Earth
  • The impact event triggered mass extinctions across different species
  • Plant species were able to survive the mass extinction due to their seeds

An expert explained how plants and trees were able to survive through one of the most devastating extinction-level events that happened on Earth. This event took place 66 million years ago when a planet-killer asteroid collided with Earth.

As indicated in various scientific reports, the blast from the major asteroid impact triggered various environmental events that eventually led to the deaths of over 70% of all life on Earth. Among those that were wiped out were the dinosaurs.

However, despite the devastation caused by the asteroid impact on Earth, trees and plants were able to bounce back. Of course, even though plant-based organisms survive through the event, it does not automatically mean they were not affected by the impact.

According to Mark Puttick, a research fellow at the University of Bath’s Milner Center for Evolution, the blast wave generated by the asteroid impact incinerated vast areas of forests and jungles. Also, like most animals, plants and trees drowned in the mass floods and tsunamis generated by the impact event.

“The shockwaves, earthquakes and tsunamis would have killed many plants,” he stated in an article on The Conversation. “Forest fires may have burnt large areas.”

Probably the most devastating effect of the asteroid impact on plants is the nuclear winter. Due to the severity of the impact, clouds of dust and debris covered the atmosphere and prevented sunlight from entering.

Without sunlight, plants and trees were not able to convert the Sun’s rays into energy and food through a vital process known as photosynthesis. This event caused many plant species to die out and even go extinct.  

Despite the level of destruction that ravaged the Earth, plants and trees were able to bounce back. As explained by Puttick, unlike dinosaurs, these life forms were able to endure the hostile conditions that the impact event created through their seeds. Since these seeds can remain dormant for a long period of time, they were able to wait out the nuclear winter.

“Plant seeds can remain dormant for many years in the soil,” he stated. “After the mass extinction conditions were not right for plant growth, but plants could wait as seeds in a dormant state until things improve. This probably explains why plants did not suffer as much as animal groups in the extinction.”

Asteroid Impacts A new report indicates that a total of 26 nuclear-level asteroid impacts have hit Earth since 2000. Photo: Donald Davis