“In the short-term, planktonic life tends to have a fairly rapid turnover — a few days to a few weeks or months pass before some form of reproduction takes place. Without the rapid reproduction of the single cell algae that form much of the marine phytoplankton, the plant feeders would die and when they die, the animals that eat the plant feeders die and so on up the food chain,” Moore says.
Simply put, large animals couldn’t find enough calories to keep themselves alive. Tyrannosaurus rex, Triceratops and their cousins were done for.
Yet all was not lost. Botanical life forms had an ace up their sleeves.
“On land, plants produce seeds or spores that can lie in the soil for at least one season before germinating. In the ocean, some of the marine phytoplankton produce ‘resting spores,’ especially when environmental conditions are not optimal. They sink down and ‘rest’ long enough for conditions to change,” says Moore. “Thus, some of the plant species could come back. It is a lot more difficult for animals to do the same.”
Difficult, sure. But not impossible.
Many creatures who were smaller and less specialized than the bygone dinosaurs weathered the storm. Mammals diversified like crazy. Ground-dwelling birds made do in places that had lost their forests to wildfires.
And it’s no exaggeration to say that without the K-Pg extinction, human beings probably never would have evolved.
As the world healed, corals and sediment slowly buried the Chicxulub crater. You might not be able to see it with the naked eye, but your very existence is a testament to the blast’s long-ranging effects. From the ashes of disaster, life forged ahead.
Originally Published: Sep 15, 2008