Cameroon was one of the first animals to recover from the largest mass extinction

Researchers studying ancient caves and seabed orbits have found that lower-lying animals, such as shrimp, were the first to recover after the mass extinction known as the “Great Death” of the late Permian. .

In an article published on Wednesday (29) in the magazine Researchers progress, an international team of scientists from China, the United States and the United Kingdom, reveals how life at sea came about after the event, which killed more than 90% of the species on Earth. The research results have been obtained from observations of fossil tracks.

Seabed scenes reconstructed during the Permian recovery from extinction. Credit: Yaqi Jiang (A, Perm, B, Lower Griesbachian Trias, C, Smithian Trias)

252 million years ago, the ecosphere was destroyed by the mass extinction of Permian, and the resumption of life on Earth took millions of years to bring biodiversity back to pre-extinction levels.

By examining the seabed in southern China, the team was able to unravel the rebirth of marine life and highlight the animal activities that took place at any given time.

“The Permian mass extinction and early Triassic restoration of life is very well documented in southern China,” said Professor Michael Benton, of the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol, in a statement. , in the UK, contributor to the new article. .

“We were able to study fossil traces from 26 sections across the series of events representing seven crucial years. And by showing details of 400 test points, we eventually reconstructed the recovery stages of all animals, including benthos and nectons. , as well as the soft digging animals in the ocean, ”Benton said.

Xueqian Feng of China University of Geosciences in Wuhan, who led the study, focused on ancient caves and trails. Fossil tracks such as paths and caves document mainly soft animals in the sea, such as shrimp. »

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Shrimp are among the animals that recovered most quickly from the great perm extinction. Photo: Butchoy Gabis –

“There are incredible places in southern China where we have found a large number of beautifully preserved fossil tracks, and the details can show the technical behavior of internal ecosystems as well as their feedback effects on the biodiversity of vertebrates.” Feng said. .

According to Professor Zhong-Qiang Chen, supervisor of the study, the fossil tracks show when and where soft, burrowing animals appeared in this early Triassic greenhouse world.

“For example, high temperatures and prolonged anoxia coincided with low values ​​of behavioral and ecological diversity along the border between Permian and Triassic, and it took about 3 million years for ecological recovery of body animals. Soft as shrimp match the levels. Pre-extinction.

And why is it important to understand these great mass extinctions from the geological past? “The answer is that the late Permian crisis – which was so devastating to life on Earth – was caused by global warming and ocean acidification,” Feng explained.

“Our fossil trace data reveal mollusc’s resistance to high CO2by them and warming, “the researcher said, adding that” these ecosystem engineers may have played a role in restoring the marine environment after severe mass extinctions, which could potentially trigger, for example, evolutionary innovations and radiation. from the early Triassic.

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