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Two pulses of extinction during the Permian–Triassic crisis


The Permian–Triassic mass extinction is the most severe biotic crisis identified in Earth history. Over 90% of marine species were eliminated1,2, causing the destruction of the marine ecosystem structure3. This biotic crisis is generally interpreted as a single extinction event around 252.3 million years ago2,4,5,6, and has been variously attributed to the eruption of the Siberian Traps or possibly a bolide impact7,8,9,10. Here we demonstrate that the marine extinction consisted of two pulses, separated by a 180,000-year recovery phase. We evaluated the range of 537 species representing 17 marine groups in seven Chinese sections from a 450,000-year interval spanning the Permian–Triassic boundary. The first stage of extinction occurred during the latest Permian, and was marked by the extinction of 57% of species, namely all plankton and some benthic groups, including algae, rugose corals, and fusulinids. The second phase occurred in the earliest Triassic, and resulted in the extinction of 71% of the remaining species. This second extinction phase fundamentally altered the marine ecosystem structure that had existed for the previous 200 million years. Because the two pulses showed different extinction selectivity, we conclude that they may have had different environmental causes.

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Figure 1: Stratigraphic ranges of fossil species (indicated by vertical grey lines) from the latest Permian to the earliest Triassic in seven P–Tr boundary sections of South China.
Figure 2: Analysis of species ranges around the P–Tr boundary in South China.
Figure 3: Species diversity pattern among marine taxa from Permian–Triassic boundary strata showing great variability in the extinction pattern.
Figure 4: Changes of marine ecosystem structures in the P–Tr interval.

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This study was supported by the 973 Program (National Basic Research Program of China; 2011CB808800), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (40830212, 40921062, 41172312), the 111 Project (B08030), and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities, China University of Geosciences (Wuhan).

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H.S. conceived the study. All authors participated in data preparation, discussion and interpretation. H.S. wrote the initial manuscript, and P.B.W. provided substantial comments and editorial revisions to the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Haijun Song.

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Song, H., Wignall, P., Tong, J. et al. Two pulses of extinction during the Permian–Triassic crisis. Nature Geosci 6, 52–56 (2013).

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