In South Africa, researchers have found fossilized dinosaur and synapsid footprints that miraculously survived on the "land of fire" at the start of the early Jurassic mass extinction.
The research is published in the journal PLOS ONE and is briefly covered by Phys.org. The discovery was made by a team led by Emes M. Bordi from the University of Cape Town. She explored the Karoo River Basin in southern Africa, which is widely known for its massive igneous deposits.
Previous studies have shown that these deposits were left behind by extensive basaltic lava flows in the Early Jurassic. One of the modern popular hypotheses says that it was volcanic activity that had a significant detrimental effect on the environment and atmosphere, possibly becoming one of the reasons for the mass extinction of species.
The fossils of the Karoo Basin can tell a lot about how ecosystems have responded to this "stress". Bordi's team managed to find, identify and describe the footprints preserved in the sandstone layer. It is located in sediments between lava flows, which are estimated to be 183 million years old.
In total, scientists have described five tracks containing 25 tracks. They were left behind by three types of animals. The first is probably small synapsids (a group of animals that includes mammals and their predecessors).
The second type of footprints was left by large bipedal creatures, apparently predatory dinosaurs. The third type of footprints belonged to small four-legged creatures. Scientists suggest that they could have been left by representatives of an unknown species of herbivorous dinosaurs.
The discovered fossils are of great interest to researchers. These tracks appear to have been left behind by the last known animals that lived in the Karoo Basin before it was filled with lava.
The sandstone that has preserved these traces is located between the lava flows. According to the authors of the work, this indicates that various animals managed to survive in this area after the intensification of volcanic activity.
Later, this region turned into a real "land of fire". It is unlikely that living beings could survive in such conditions. However, the discovered traces, according to scientists, can provide "invaluable data on how local ecosystems responded to intense environmental stress at the beginning of the global mass extinction."
"Fossil footprints tell a story from our deep past about how continental ecosystems could coexist with truly gigantic volcanic phenomena," says Bordi. that something like this could happen in the future."