Earth’s worst mass extinction event happened 252 million years ago when massive volcanic eruptions caused catastrophic climate change. The vast majority of animal species went extinct, and when the dust settled, the planet entered the early days of the Age of Dinosaurs. Scientists are learning about the patterns of which animals went extinct, which species survived and why. This new study was published in PNAS.
The researchers found that while extinction happened rapidly in the oceans, life on land underwent a longer, more drawn-out period of extinctions. People concluded that because the marine extinction happened over a short period, life on land should have followed the same pattern. Researchers found that the marine extinction may be punctuation to a longer, more drawn-out event on land.
Paleontologists found that 252 million years ago a mass extinction hit at the end of the Permian period, and within 100,000 years, more than 85% of the species living in the ocean went extinct. The marine version of the end-Permian extinction took up 100,000 years out of the entire 3,800,000,000 years that life has existed which is equivalent to 14 minutes out of a whole year.
Viglietti, Angielczyk, the lead author of the study and their colleagues examined fossils from 588 four-legged fossil animals that lived in what’s now South Africa’s Karoo Basin at the time of the Permian mass extinction. The researchers created a database and separated the fossils by age, grouping specimens by 300,000-year time intervals. This approach allowed the researchers to quantify the appearance and disappearance of different species and look at the bigger picture of life over time, rather than just relying on individual specimens to tell the whole story.