Madrid, 14 (Europe Press)
A new study suggests that all living snakes evolved from a handful of species that survived the impact of the giant asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs.
The authors say that this devastating extinction event, which kicked off 66 million years ago, was a form of “creative destruction” that allowed snakes to diversify into new niches previously occupied by their competitors.
The research, published in Nature Communications, shows that snakes, which currently comprise nearly 4,000 living species, began diversifying the moment cosmic influence wiped out the dinosaurs and most other species on the planet.
The study, which was led by scientists at the University of Bath and included collaborators from Bristol, Cambridge and research centers in Germany, used fossils and analyzed genetic differences between modern snakes to reconstruct the evolution of snakes. Analyzes have helped determine when modern snakes evolved.
Their results show that all living snakes can be traced back to a handful of species that survived the asteroid impact 66 million years ago, the same extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs.
The authors argue that the snakes’ ability to burrow underground and survive for long periods without food helped them survive the devastating effects of the impact. As a result, the extinction of their competitors, including the Cretaceous snakes and the dinosaurs themselves, allowed the snakes to move to new niches, new habitats, and new continents.
Then the snakes began to diversify, producing subspecies such as pythons, cobras, pythons, pythons, and boas, taking advantage of new habitats and new prey. The diversity of modern snakes, including tree snakes, sea snakes, venomous vipers and cobras, and gigantic eels such as boas and pythons, did not emerge until after the extinction of the dinosaurs.
The fossils also show a change in the shape of the snake’s vertebrae as a result of the extinction of Cretaceous breeds and the emergence of new groups, including giant sea snakes up to 10 meters long.
“It’s remarkable, because not only are they surviving an extinction killing many other animals, but within a few million years they are innovating, using their habitats in new ways,” said Dr. Catherine Klein, lead author and recent graduate student at the University of Bath. He works at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) in Germany.
The study also indicates that snakes began spreading around the world around this time. Although the ancestors of living snakes may have lived somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere, it seems that snakes first spread to Asia after the extinction.
Dr Nick Longrich, of the University of Bath’s Milner Center for Evolution and corresponding author said: “Our research suggests that the extinction was a form of ‘creative destruction’: by eliminating ancient species, it allowed survivors to exploit gaps in the ecosystem, and to experiment with new lifestyles and habitats. .
“This appears to be a general feature of evolution: it is the periods immediately following the major extinctions that we see evolution in its most experimental and innovative form.
“The destruction of biodiversity leaves room for new things to emerge and colonize new masses of land. Eventually, life becomes more diverse than before.”
The study also found evidence of a second great diversification event as the world transitioned from a warm “greenhouse” climate to a cold “icehouse” climate, which saw the formation of the polar ice caps and the beginning of the Ice Age.
The patterns seen in snakes suggest a key role for disasters – severe, rapid, and global environmental disturbances – in driving evolutionary change.
The new study is published in Nature Communications.