Mass Extinction Event Impact on Marine Ecosystems
(Courthouse News) – Despite wiping out nearly half of all life on Earth, one of the most devastating mass extinctions did not fundamentally alter marine ecosystems, a new study finds.
The cataclysmic event, which occurred during the late Triassic period, also led to the extinction of most marine species – without dramatically changing the way ocean ecosystems functioned, scientists report Friday in the journal Palaeontology.
“While the late Triassic mass extinction had a big impact on the overall number of marine species, there was still enough diversity among the remaining species that the marine ecosystem was able to function in the same way it had before,” said lead author Alex Dunhill, a paleobiologist at the University of Leeds in Britain.
Occurring about 201 million years ago, the extinction stemmed from a series of large volcanic eruptions that elevated greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, leading to rapid global warming. The eruptions are also linked to the break-up of the supercontinent Pangaea, as well as the opening of the Atlantic Ocean.
“We’re not saying nothing happened,” said co-author William Foster, a paleontologist at the University of Texas at Austin. “Rather, global oceans in the extinction’s aftermath were a bit like a ship manned by a skeleton crew – all stations were operational, but manned by relatively few species.”
Dead staghorn coral.
(Arc Centre of Excellence Coral Reef Studies)