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Ecosystem remodelling among vertebrates at the Permian–Triassic boundary in Russia

Abstract

The mass extinction at the Permian–Triassic boundary, 251 million years (Myr) ago, is accepted as the most profound loss of life on record1,2,3. Global data compilations indicate a loss of 50% of families or more, both in the sea1,2,4 and on land2,5, and these figures scale to a loss of 80–96% of species, based on rarefaction analyses6,7. This level of loss is confirmed by local and regional-scale studies of marine sections3,8, but the terrestrial record has been harder to analyse in such close detail. Here we document the nature of the event in Russia in a comprehensive survey of 675 specimens of amphibians and reptiles from 289 localities spanning 13 successive geological time zones in the South Urals basin. These changes in diversity and turnover cannot be explained simply by sampling effects. There was a profound loss of genera and families, and simplification of ecosystems, with the loss of small fish-eaters and insect-eaters, medium and large herbivores and large carnivores. Faunal dynamics also changed, from high rates of turnover through the Late Permian period to greater stability at low diversity through the Early Triassic period. Even after 15 Myr of ecosystem rebuilding, some guilds were apparently still absent—small fish-eaters, small insect-eaters, large herbivores and top carnivores.

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Figure 1: The end-Permian mass extinction of tetrapods in the South Urals basin, Russia.
Figure 2: Turnover of tetrapod families through the Late Permian and Early Triassic in the South Urals basin, Russia.
Figure 3: The data on tetrapod distributions from the South Urals are probably reliable, and cannot be accounted for simply by sampling (the patchiness of the rock and fossil record).

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Acknowledgements

We thank P. Donoghue, S. Braddy, H. Falcon-Lang and R. Twitchett for helpful comments on the manuscript, and S. Powell for Fig. 1. Funding for this work was provided by the Royal Society, INTAS, RFBR, Russian Ministry of Education, the Leverhulme Trust, and the National Geographic Society.

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Benton, M., Tverdokhlebov, V. & Surkov, M. Ecosystem remodelling among vertebrates at the Permian–Triassic boundary in Russia. Nature 432, 97–100 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature02950

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