With the diversity of life on Earth, and its ability to exploit every niche, you would think planet could bounce back from a devastating extinction event. Or maybe not. According to researchers from the University of Bristol, life took a full 30 million years to recover from the Permian extinction.
The poor animals alive during the Permian extinctions were struck by three waves of disaster. The largest of these happened at the boundary between the Permian and Triassic periods around 251 million years ago. Geologists think it was caused by large-scale volcanism in Russia which produced the ‘Siberian Traps’ – vast regions of lava 200,000 square km (77,000 square miles) in area. In a geologic heartbeat, 90% of all life on Earth was completely wiped out: insects, planets, marine animals, amphibians, and reptiles… everything. Life never got so close to being completely wiped off the face of the Earth.
Life did bounce back quickly, but diversity didn’t. Instead of the rich ecosystems we see today, very opportunistic creatures filled the empty spaces left behind by the extinction. One example is Lystrosaurus, a hardy herbivore the size of a pig.
Sarda Sahney and Professor Michael Benton at the University of Bristol looked at the recovery of animals like amphibians and reptiles. Although these creatures did make a recovery quickly, it took 30 million years for the number of animals and their diversity to match the pre-extinction levels.
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Sahney said: â€œOur 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.â€?
This is an important thought to consider now that we’re in one of the most rapid periods of species loss in history.
Original Source: University of Bristol