Evidence for fungal proliferation following the Cretaceous/Paleogene mass-extinction event, based on chemostratigraphy in the Raton and Powder River basins, western North America
Keith Berry 1  
More details
Hide details
Science Department, Hoehne Re-3 School District, Hoehne, Colorado, 81046, U.S.A.
Submission date: 2019-12-01
Online publication date: 2020-06-29
Publication date: 2020-06-29
Acta Palaeobotanica 2020; 60(1): 134–142
The presence of the amino acid α-aminoisobutyric acid (Aib) within Cretaceous/Paleogene (K/Pg) boundary clay in the Raton and Powder River basins in Colorado and Wyoming, respectively, has been described as compelling evidence that extraterrestrial Aib survived the high-energy Chicxulub impact. Based on contemporary experiments and simulations, however, it is highly unlikely that extraterrestrial Aib survived the impact, which had peak impact pressures and temperatures in excess of 600 GPa and 10,000 K, respectively. In other words, the amino acid signature of the carbonaceous chondritic asteroid that impacted Chicxulub was undoubtedly destroyed upon impact during formation of the vapor plume or so-called “fireball.” The only organisms known to produce Aib are the suite (more than 30 genera) of cosmopolitan saprotrophic filamentous fungi that include Trichoderma Pers., which has recently been hypothesized to have thrived during the K/Pg mass-extinction event. Therefore it is proposed that the Aib horizon in the K/Pg boundary clay in the Raton and Powder River basins correlates with the K/Pg boundary fungal spike, which thus far has only been observed in New Zealand (Southern Hemisphere). This proposition is based upon superimposing the Aib horizon on the well-known iridium and fern-spore spikes, as its stratigraphic position precisely matches that predicted by the fungal spike. If correct, this hypothesis alters the conventional perspective on the tempo and mode of terrestrial ecosystem recovery in western North America, as the heavily sampled K/Pg boundary section in the Raton Basin was instrumental in shaping the traditional narrative of the rapid recolonization of a denuded landscape by ferns via wind-blown spores in the immediate wake of regional deforestation caused by the K/Pg impact event. Perhaps more importantly, it could present an alternative to traditional palynological approaches for locating the fungal spike in other terrestrial K/Pg boundary sections and could provide additional support for the generalization that global mass-extinction events are frequently accompanied by fungal spikes.