HomeAstronomyMammals were already poised to take over the world before the dino-killing...

Mammals were already poised to take over the world before the dino-killing asteroid struck

A Triceratops prorsus munches on plants while two small mammals sit in the underbrush. Nearby, a softshell turtle climbs up on a log, unaware that its ecosystem will shelter it from the impending doom of a major asteroid impact. (Image credit: Illustration © Henry Sharpe, used under license)

Dinosaurs largely died off when a Manhattan-size asteroid slammed into Earth 66 million years ago. Meanwhile, in the shadows, tiny mammals had steadily picked up adaptations that helped them survive the disaster and thrive in its aftermath, a new study suggests.

The study, published Wednesday (Dec. 7) in the journal Science Advances (opens in new tab), came to that conclusion by mapping the complex interactions between a huge range of ancient animals and their ecosystems before and after the asteroid hit. The model incorporates data from fossils gathered in western North America whose ages straddle the boundary between the end of the Cretaceous period (opens in new tab) (145 million to 66 million years ago) and the start of the Paleogene (66 million to 23 million years ago). These 1,600 fossils represent more than 470 genera of animals, including mammals, fish, crocodilians, birds and nonavian dinosaurs.

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