(CN) – Scientists announced findings Wednesday that dinosaurs and relatives of mammals managed to survive in a “land of fire” at the beginning of a mass extinction event more than 180 million years ago.
The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, describes how paleontologists discovered footprints left behind in the Karoo Basin of Southern Africa. Emese Bordy, of the University of Cape Town in South Africa, and fellow researchers identified 25 footprints among five trackways.
The footprints, preserved in a sandstone layer between lava flows, represented three types of animals: small synapsids, a group of animals that include ancestors to modern mammals; large bipedal dinosaurs, most likely carnivorous; and small four-legged dinosaurs thought to be herbivores.
Since the sandstone was deposited between lava flows, Bordy and his fellow scientists believe these animals survived in the basin after volcanic activity turned it into “a land of fire.”
“The fossil footprints were discovered within a thick pile of ancient basaltic lava flows that are ~183 million years old,” Bordy said in a statement.
The tracks date back to the Early Jurassic Period, a time well known for the abundance of dinosaurs. The study authors said more research in the basin could help them understand how the local ecosystems responded to the signficant environmental changes brought on by a global mass extinction.
The Karoo Basin, known for having large deposits of igneous rocks thanks to lava flows during the Early Jurassic, likely holds more fossils that can help tell scientists how these animals reacted to the overwhelming volcanic activity.
“The fossil tracks tell a story from our deep past on how continental ecosystems could co-exist with truly giant volcanic events that can only be studied from the geological record, because they do not have modern equivalents, although they can occur in the future of the Earth,” Bordy said.