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How the extinction of the dinosaurs led to grape evolution in South America

Recent research led by Fabiany Herrera, an assistant curator of paleobotany at the Field Museum in Chicago, has unveiled a novel understanding of the grape's journey to becoming a globally recognized fruit. The study documents the identification of nine new fossil grape species, with some dating back to 60 million years, discovered across Colombia, Panama, and Peru. Among these, a seed from Peru marks the oldest known grape species in the Western Hemisphere.

Herrera commented, "These are the oldest grapes ever found in this part of the world, and they're a few million years younger than the oldest ones ever found on the other side of the planet." He further explained the significance of this discovery in illustrating the spread of grapes post-dinosaur extinction. The research suggests that the absence of dinosaurs led to denser forests, creating an ideal environment for grapevines to thrive, particularly in South America.

Mónica Carvalho, a co-author of the study and an assistant curator at the University of Michigan's Museum of Paleontology, highlighted how dinosaurs once maintained more open forests, which changed following their extinction. This shift allowed for an increase in vine-using plants, such as grapes. Additionally, the diversification of birds and mammals may have contributed to the spread of grape seeds.

The pursuit of South American grape fossils led Herrera and Carvalho to a significant find in the Colombian Andes in 2022—a 60-million-year-old grape fossil named Lithouva susmanii, in honor of Arthur T. Susman's contributions to South American paleobotany. This discovery not only marks the first South American grape fossil but also supports the theory of a South American origin for the grapevine genus Vitis, according to co-author Gregory Stull of the National Museum of Natural History.


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