Surviving Mass Extinction

You might not be here, reading this book, if the dinosaurs had not become extinct. Why did mammals survive and dinosaurs perish at the end of the Cretaceous Period? Many of life's creatures cannot adapt quickly enough to catastrophic changes. The result is mass extinction. However, there are always some survivors. Is it possible to predict who might survive and who might perish from a catastrophic change to the environment?

Most animals and plants live in very specific climates and geographic locations. Life adapts to changing living conditions very slowly and gradually, over millions of years. Those animals and plants most able to adapt often evolve into new species. A species might evolve into a new body shape or gain a new body part or function, such as claws for climbing trees or the ability to see in the dark. If these new species are better adapted to their new environments, they flourish. Animals and plants that are unable to adapt to changing conditions die off. They become extinct.

During mass extinction, there is usually a sudden and severe change in the weather. In a sense, the world gets extremely

More than 90% of all turtle species survived the K-T mass extinction. Today more than half the world's turtles face extinction.

stressed out! There is no time to get used to different temperatures. There is no time to adapt to a new environment. In these situations, animals and plants have two choices. They can find new homes that suit them better or they can stay and try to make the best of their new living conditions. In both scenarios, if they can't cope, they die off. Adapt or perish is the name of this evolutionary game. Charles Darwin called it natural selection.

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