After the End Permian Mass Extinction

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchThe end-Permian mass extinction event was the big daddy of all the known mass extinction events. Life on the planet Earth was almost entirely wiped out. A new paper explores the post-extinction recovery of ecological systems.

Post extinction dynamics can be understood in relation to several dimensions: Taxonomy (the range and structure of different taxonomic groups); ecology (the interrelationship between the new species and the niches available, as well as the structure and distribution of those niches); and morphology (the overall morphospace filled by the new taxa). The present study focuses on taxonomic diversity in the context of ecological diversity.

There are several meanings for the term ‘recovery’ after mass extinctions. Past studies have revealed that faunal revival after a devastating ecological event may follow a pattern similar to ecological succession … and recovery may be considered as the point at which the model is complete and the new ecosystem is stable. … On both the scale of modern ecological recovery and recovery from mass extinction, disaster (‘weedy’ or generalist) taxa are known to insinuate themselves into empty guilds, pushing the boundaries of their geographical range and ecospace. Early Triassic terrestrial ecosystems are clearly dominated by a small number of genera, most notably the dicynodont Lystrosaurus, which accounted for approximately 90% of terrestrial vertebrates (Benton 1983). Disaster taxa then experienced rapid turnover in the time immediately following the event, later giving way to more specialized organisms…

The present paper focuses on carefully chosen, well represented and preserved fossil communities, in order to reduce the effects of vagaries of preservation and sampling. Data from 69 tetrapod communities spanning the relevant period were assembled, checked for quality, and then subsampled. The study is global, however, geographically.

Three distinct extinction pulses were responsible for the mass extinction of tetrapods in the Permian and Triassic: Olson’s extinction; the end-Guadalupian event; and the
end-Permian event. … The global diversity rose sharply after each extinction pulse, probably the result of disaster taxa filling empty guilds. After the end-Permian event, this rapid refilling resulted in a return to pre-extinction taxonomic diversity by the Olenekian. However, this did not last, as there was a subsequent loss of nine families.

Essentially, this research suggests that while taxonomic recovery … the increase to higher levels in the number of species from the few that survive the extinction … community and ecological level systems take perhaps tens of millions of years to return to something like the pre-extinction state. According to one of the study’s authors, Sarda Sahney, “Our research shows that after a major ecological crisis, recovery takes a very long time. So although we have not yet witnessed anything like the level of the extinction that occurred at the end of the Permian, we should nevertheless bear in mind that ecosystems take a very long time to fully recover.”


Sahney, S., Benton, M.J. (2008). Recovery from the most profound mass extinction of all time. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, -1(1), -1–1. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2007.1370

Bristol University Press Release

Comments

  1. #1 Laelaps
    January 23, 2008

    I saw this one too last week and didn’t think anyone was going to get to it; I guess I was wrong! Now what really would be interesting would be a comparison of, say, recovery after the Permian event and the end-Cretaceous event.

    Still, in terms of what was discussed in the paper, the Permian extinction always struck me as rather interesting in that Lystrosaurus turned up everywhere and eventually was wiped out, the great turnover in biodiversity that included the evolution of the dinosaurs not occurring until much later. Now that there’s a little better idea of what happened when, I’d hope to see more research going into why biodiversity took the time it did to recover in the late Triassic.

    Also, Sarda writes the blog Fish Feet and has a short piece on the paper here.

  2. #2 BrianR
    January 23, 2008

    Cool stuff … a prof at Stanford University, Jon Payne, also works on earliest Triassic paleobio. See his papers here.

    I saw this post over on researchbogging.org under the “Anthropology” category, which is wrong … just an FYI :)

  3. #3 _Arthur
    January 23, 2008

    “The global diversity rose sharply after each extinction pulse, probably the result of disaster taxa filling empty guilds. ”

    What is a guild ? Is it like an ecological niche ?

  4. #4 Will Baird
    January 23, 2008

    Brian (laelaps),

    I’m going to do a bio comparison of the KT/PT events after I get the post on the KT extinction done. That’s going to be a bit though. There has been nontrivial work about the recoveries of each though. Sarda’s is very, very good (I got the paper).

  5. #5 Travis
    qnrBUoOEskhM
    July 22, 2012

    Perhaps some of the thoughts on ininoatvon are spurred by the same optimism which inspired the works of the early science fiction writers. We tend to imagine that the future will manifest what we desire today. If it turns out that future generations don’t want the same things well how could our predictions plan for that?Speaking of the Anglo-centric (and actually it’s more specifically UK-centric. Most likely owing to the fact that the author resides in the UK) slant, I agree with the last too commentators that much future progress will move away from the current Euro-centric paradigm. We may see India’s rise to global leader much faster than we realize. This obviously under the assumption that the nation doesn’t collapse under the weight of their own struggles. Also rising in global influence are Persian Gulf nations such as Kuwait, Qatar and most spectacularly the United Arab Emirates (see Dubai). In fact, we’re already witnessing greater cooperation between the Gulf states and South Asia. If India and the UAE were to foment their relationship into something on par with NAFTA, we’d quickly see a consolodation of world power in the Near East. But even then, they’d need some time to grow before their cultural influence eclipsed that of the EU or the USA.