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Prehistoric asteroid wiped out mammals

Press AssociationPress Association 20/06/2016

New research suggests the prehistoric asteroid that wiped out dinosaurs also eradicated nearly every species of mammal.

Around 93 per cent of mammal species were made extinct by the strike, which took place in the Cretaceous period, more than 66 million years ago.

University of Bath scientists have examined fossil records and have determined that the asteroid's impact was much more severe than previously thought.

Past estimates have been much lower because some of the rarer species that were killed left a smaller fossil record, researchers said.

"The species that are most vulnerable to extinction are the rare ones, and because they are rare, their fossils are less likely to be found," the university's Dr Nick Longrich said.

"The species that tend to survive are more common, so we tend to find them."

The study also found the asteroid's catastrophic effect for life on Earth was mitigated by species recovering rapidly.

Within 300,000 years, the number of species on the planet was double the amount that had existed before the mass extinction.

Due to the lack of sustenance resulting from the widespread destruction of vegetation and animals, it is thought that the largest living animal during the period would have been about the size of a cat.

"Because mammals did so well after the extinction, we have tended to assume that it didn't hit them as hard," Dr Longrich added.

"However, our analysis shows that the mammals were hit harder than most groups of animals, such as lizards, turtles, crocodilians, but they proved to be far more adaptable in the aftermath."

Researchers analysed all known mammal species in North America from the end of the Cretaceous period to draw their conclusions.

The findings were published in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology.

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