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Transient metazoan reefs in the aftermath of the end-Permian mass extinction


Recovery from the devastating Permian–Triassic mass extinction about 252 million years ago is usually assumed to have spanned the entire 5 million years of the Early Triassic epoch1,2. The post-crisis interval was characterized by large-scale fluctuations of the global carbon cycle and harsh marine conditions, including a combination of ocean acidification, euxinia, and fluctuating productivity3. During this interval, metazoan-dominated reefs are thought to have been replaced by microbial deposits that are considered the hallmark of the Early Triassic4,5,6,7. Here we use field and microscopic investigations to document Early Triassic bioaccumulations and reefs from the western USA that comprise of various sponges and serpulids associated with microbialites and other eukaryotic benthic organisms. These metazoan-rich reefs were formed only 1.5 million years after the extinction, in contrast to previous suggestions of a much delayed recovery of complex benthic communities. We conclude that the predominance of microbial reefs following the mass extinction is restricted to short intervals of the earliest Triassic. We suggest that metazoan reef building continued throughout the Early Triassic wherever permitted by environmental conditions.

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Figure 1: Geographic and temporal overview of the studied Early Triassic bioaccumulations and reefs from western USA.
Figure 2: Simplified litho- and biostratigraphy for the PR and MM sections.
Figure 3: Most characteristic features of sponge bioaccumulations or reefs i-ii and iv–vi.


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This article is a contribution to the teams FED and SEDS of the UMR CNRS 5561 (A.B., E.V.), and teams VP and BFFD of the UMR CNRS 5276 (N.O., G.E.). This work was funded by the Région Bourgogne, the FRB, the INSU Interrvie (A.B., G.E., N.O., E.V.), and supported by the Swiss NSF project 200020-113554 (H.B.). R. Bourillot, M. Hautmann, P. A. Hochuli, J. Vacelet, and D. Vachard are thanked for discussions. G. D. Stanley is also thanked for his taxonomic advice regarding organism determinations and for his contribution in improving an earlier version of the manuscript. The authors appreciate access to lands managed by the BLM of the US Department of Interior and the US Forest Service (Fishlake National Forest) of the US Department of Agriculture.

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Fieldwork was carried out by all authors. Thin section studies were performed by E.V., A.B. and N.O. Ammonoid determinations: A.B. and H.B. Conodont determinations: N.G. Manuscript was written by A.B., E.V., N.O, G.E., H.B. with comments on contents from all authors.

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Correspondence to Arnaud Brayard.

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Brayard, A., Vennin, E., Olivier, N. et al. Transient metazoan reefs in the aftermath of the end-Permian mass extinction. Nature Geosci 4, 693–697 (2011).

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