Recovery from the most profound mass extinction of all time

Sarda Sahney, Michael J Benton

Abstract

The end-Permian mass extinction, 251 million years (Myr) ago, was the most devastating ecological event of all time, and it was exacerbated by two earlier events at the beginning and end of the Guadalupian, 270 and 260 Myr ago. Ecosystems were destroyed worldwide, communities were restructured and organisms were left struggling to recover. Disaster taxa, such as Lystrosaurus, insinuated themselves into almost every corner of the sparsely populated landscape in the earliest Triassic, and a quick taxonomic recovery apparently occurred on a global scale. However, close study of ecosystem evolution shows that true ecological recovery was slower. After the end-Guadalupian event, faunas began rebuilding complex trophic structures and refilling guilds, but were hit again by the end-Permian event. Taxonomic diversity at the alpha (community) level did not recover to pre-extinction levels; it reached only a low plateau after each pulse and continued low into the Late Triassic. Our data showed that though there was an initial rise in cosmopolitanism after the extinction pulses, large drops subsequently occurred and, counter-intuitively, a surprisingly low level of cosmopolitanism was sustained through the Early and Middle Triassic.

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