During an expedition in southern Saskatchewan, a team of scientists from McGill University and Royal Saskatchewan Museum discovered the first fossil-record evidence of forest fire ecology.
"Excavating plant fossils preserved in rocks, deposited during the last days of the dinosaurs, researchers found some preserved with abundant fossilised charcoal and others without it.
"From this, we were able to reconstruct what the Cretaceous forests looked like with and without fire disturbance," said Hans Larsson from McGill University.
The team's findings will help broaden scientists' understanding of biodiversity immediately before the mass extinction of dinosaurs.
Forest fires can affect both plant and animal biodiversity.
"We were looking at the direct result of a 66-million-year old forest fire, preserved in stone," said Emily Bamforth of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum and the study's first author.
Moreover, we now have evidence that the mean annual temperature in southern Saskatchewan was 10-12 degrees celsius warmer than today - with almost six times as much precipitation, Bamforth added.
It also provides one more clue to what the ecology was like just before they went extinct.
"We will not be able to fully understand the extinction dynamics until we understand what normal ecological processes were going on in the background," Larsson concluded.