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Mesozoic era

Mesozoic era (mĕzˌəzōˈĭk) [key] [Gr., = middle life], major division of geologic time (see Geologic Timescale, table) from 65 to 225 million years ago. Great crustal disturbances that marked the close of the Paleozoic and the beginning of the Mesozoic eras brought about drastic changes in the topography of North America. The Appalachian geosyncline, or downward thrust of the earth's crust, was replaced by the Appalachian Mts., and the eastern part of the continent was elevated during most of the era. The Appalachians were subjected to erosion, the products of which were deposited along the Atlantic coast, which had become a lowland region, or in the ocean beyond. Aside from the Appalachians, the other dry (consistently) areas of the continent were the Canadian Shield, the Antilles areas, and a mountain range elevated in part of the Cordilleran geosyncline. The Mesozoic tectonic activity included numerous subduction zones, such as those along the Pacific margin of the supercontinent Pangaea. Later, Pangaea began to split into the supercontinents of Gondwanaland and Laurasia, and N Africa began to rift apart. By the late Mesozoic, tectonic activity increased dramatically: the new Indian Ocean began to open, the Atlantic Ocean began to open along an extensive rift zone separating the Americas from Europe and Africa (see seafloor spreading). The life of the Mesozoic was dominated by the reptiles that evolved into the large land-dwelling dinosaurs of the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Flying reptiles and birds first appeared during the Mesozoic. Mammals probably evolved from some common ancestor of the reptiles early in the Triassic Period, but were subordinate to the reptiles until the end of the era, when the dominance of reptiles was ended by the extinction of the dinosaurs. Conifers dominated the plant life, with modern pines and sequoias first appearing. Flowering plants, deciduous trees, and grasses also appeared during this era.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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