(ORDO NEWS) — Before the closing scenes of the Cretaceous, India was a rogue subcontinent colliding with Asia.
However, before the two continents merged, India hit a “hot spot” in the earth’s crust, causing one of the largest volcanic eruptions in the history of the planet, which probably contributed to the extinction of the dinosaurs.
In a recent study published in the International Journal of Plant Sciences, scientists at the US National Science Foundation, who unearthed fossilized remains of plant material sandwiched between layers of volcanic rock, described a new plant species.
The work is based on the presence of characteristic fruit capsules, which probably exploded to disperse their seeds.
The fossils may be the oldest fruits of the spur family, or Euphorbiaceae, a group of plants with over 7,000 species discovered to date, including poinsettias, castor beans, rubber trees and crotons.
The fossil fruit was discovered near the village of Mohgaon Kalan in central India, where the remains of volcanic rock lie just below the surface in an intricate mosaic.
“You can walk up these hills and find chunks of kert that have weathered through the topsoil,” says senior study author Stephen Manchester, a paleobotanist at the Florida Museum of Natural History. “Some of the best places to collect finds are where the farmers have plowed up the fields and pushed the pieces aside.”
Although there is some uncertainty in the timing, it is believed that the volcanic eruptions lasted up to 1 million years, occurred in long pulses that covered the surrounding landscape with thick layers of lava up to 1 mile deep.
Today, the basaltic rocks left behind by the eruptions, known as the Deccan Traps, cover an area larger than the state of California.
Between the basalt rocks, paleontologists have found slates, kerts, limestones, and clays stacked in a giant layer cake of alternating bands, most of which are rich in plant and animal fossils. These fossils provide a glimpse into what appear to have been relatively quiet periods of stability between powerful lava flows.
The new species described were most likely shrubs or small trees that grew near hot springs formed by the interaction of groundwater with naturally heated rock below the surface, similar to present-day conditions in Yellowstone National Park.
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