Did an Asteroid Strike Help Frogs Inherit the Earth?

Massive die-out of dinosaurs allowed amphibians to make evolutionary leap forward.

July 6, 2017 5:00 am
Frogs swim in the water a bond in Frankfurt, western Germany, on July 4, 2017.
A frog swims in the water a bond in Frankfurt, western Germany, on July 4, 2017. (FRANK RUMPENHORST/AFP/Getty Images)

A new study shows that the 10-mile-wide asteroid that destroyed three-quarters of all life on Earth—including the dinosaurs—helped frogs make their big evolutionary move.

Though frogs have been around for nearly 200 million years, the frog population exploded after the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event some 66 million years ago, says a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers David Blackburn and Peng Zhang put together a new species tree, driven by genetic data, of these amphibians. They found that contrary to popular thought, modern frogs first emerged hundreds of millions of years ago, before the time when dinosaurs reigned. But it wasn’t until the dinosaurs’ demise that the frog species took off.

The astroid caused huge environmental changes, so the amphibians were suddenly able to occupy new vacant ecological habitats.

Basically, mass extinction events are like pressing a reset button. Frogs were able to flourish because of the sudden disappearance of the dinosaurs, as well as nearly every animal larger than 55 pounds, and the re-emergence of abandoned ecosystems. This led to the thousands of species that still inhabit Earth today.

However, frogs now face another mass extinction event, but this one is human made. Habitat loss, pollution, disease and other factors are threatening nearly one-third of the world’s amphibians.

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