Just study the Dolomites to confirm the importance of preserving equatorial and tropical areas. This is no paradox if we consider that, hundreds of millions of years ago, the Alpine areas occupied the equatorial zone. A team of researchers led by Massimo Bernardi of MUSE, the Trento science museum, an expert on the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event, has recently published in Earth Science Reviews an important article containing the results of the research carried out in the Bletterbach Gorge, one of the nine Dolomite systems making up the Dolomites UNESCO World Heritage and which is an inexhaustible source of geological and paleontological information.
The first result of the research concerned the central role played by the Bletterbach site in surveying the life forms present in the equatorial areas during the Permian period and in particular during its final phase, the Lopingian epoch (260-251 million years ago). This was a crucial phase because it immediately preceded the mass extinction event which happened between the end of the Permian and the beginning of the Triassic period. The international team of researchers compared the evidence collected from the Bletterbach site with that found in other areas of the planet which, being further way from the equator, were less rich in biodiversity. The Alps of today were, in that era, a central region of the supercontinent Pangaea, with a tropical climate that was steadily warming up. This area represented an amazing breeding ground for animal and vegetable species, with some extinct species still existing and new groups, such as the archosaurs, appearing, and these days it acts as an extraordinary archive of paleontological information. And that’s not all, the question is: in what way does the biodiversity of that era still have something to say to the present? “We are used to thinking of palaeontologists as people concerned with ancient matters, long distant from us. However, in reality, an analysis of the past can be very useful for the present. Some 250 million years ago, life on earth was entering a phase of global warming, acidification of the oceans, high rates of extinction and migration, all phenomena taking place today. In-depth study of this detailed archive of the history of the earth, in addition to enabling us to reconstruct our past, can also provide us with a better understanding of the consequences of the climate change underway today and that the Dolomites illustrate in an exceptional way, indeed they are the perfect open book”, affirms Massimo Bernardi, the research team leader.