Amidst the ongoing disaster in Australia, a local evolutionary biologist explained how massive wildfires can drive mass extinction events across different species. The scientist said that since die-offs due to wildfires have happened before, there's a chance they could occur again.

Australia is regarded as a megadiverse country, which means it houses a great number of species in its territories. Unfortunately, this has been drastically affected by the ongoing bushfires in the country. According to recent reports, over a billion animals have already been killed by the natural disaster.

dinosaur extinction, birth
A life-scene from 232 million years ago, during the Carnian Pluvial Episode after which dinosaurs took over. A large rauisuchian lurks in the background, while two species of dinosaurs stand in the foreground. Based on data from the Ischigualasto Formation in Argentina.(Credit: Davide Bonadonna) Davide Bonadonna

Wildfires From Major Asteroid Impact

For Mike Lee, an evolutionary professor at Flinders University in Adelaide, the effect of the bushfires in Australia can be compared to the mass extinction events that Earth experienced millions of years ago. As noted by Lee, the massive asteroid that hit the planet 66 million years ago caused firestorms, which led to wildfires in different parts of the globe.

According to fossil records, most species of land-dwelling animals were wiped out by the wildfires. Since these animals couldn't swim, burrow or fly, they were not able to escape the fires that incinerated their natural habitats.

"Among mammals, platypus-like monotremes (aquatic and burrowing) clung on, as did tiny rodent-like placental mammals (able to burrow or hide in deep crevices), but all large placental mammals died," Lee wrote on an article on The Conversation. "And while at least some birds survived, all their large, earth-bound, dinosaurian relatives perished."

Australian bushfire
Wikimedia Commons

Triggering Mass Extinction Events

Certain species of birds that rely on trees and forests to survive were also greatly affected by the wildfires. Although many of them were not instantly killed like what happened to land-dwelling animals, deforestation and other environmental effects of the wildfires eventually wiped them out.

The catastrophic event that occurred millions of years ago managed to kill off over 70 percent of all living creatures on Earth. Although Australia's current situation is far from the effects of an asteroid impact, the country's biodiversity is still taking a huge hit due to the ongoing bushfires. Given the condition of the current situation and the high number of animals affected, it is possible that mass extinctions across different species could occur if the bushfires continue to ravage Australia.