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Functional diversity of marine ecosystems after the Late Permian mass extinction event

Nature Geoscience volume 7, pages 233238 (2014) | Download Citation

Abstract

The Late Permian mass extinction event about 252 million years ago was the most severe biotic crisis of the past 500 million years and occurred during an episode of global warming. The loss of around two-thirds of marine genera is thought to have had substantial ecological effects, but the overall impacts on the functioning of marine ecosystems and the pattern of marine recovery are uncertain. Here we analyse the fossil occurrences of all known benthic marine invertebrate genera from the Permian and Triassic periods, and assign each to a functional group based on their inferred lifestyle. We show that despite the selective extinction of 62–74% of these genera, all but one functional group persisted through the crisis, indicating that there was no significant loss of functional diversity at the global scale. In addition, only one new mode of life originated in the extinction aftermath. We suggest that Early Triassic marine ecosystems were not as ecologically depauperate as widely assumed. Functional diversity was, however, reduced in particular regions and habitats, such as tropical reefs; at these smaller scales, recovery varied spatially and temporally, probably driven by migration of surviving groups. We find that marine ecosystems did not return to their pre-extinction state, and by the Middle Triassic greater functional evenness is recorded, resulting from the radiation of previously subordinate groups such as motile, epifaunal grazers.

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Acknowledgements

W.J.F. would like to thank S. Danise and G. Price for discussions on data handling, ecospace assignments and analytical approaches. W.J.F. would also like to thank G. Lloyd and M. Bell for discussions on subsampling and programming in R. This study was supported by a Natural Environment Research Council grant (NE/I005641/1) to R.J.T. This is Paleobiology Database official publication No. 195.

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Affiliations

  1. Plymouth University, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Drake Circus Plymouth PL4 8AA, UK

    • William J. Foster
    •  & Richard J. Twitchett

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Contributions

W.J.F. and R.J.T. are equally responsible for the project design, interpretation and writing. W.J.F. compiled the databases and undertook the analyses.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to William J. Foster.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2079

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