Science

The Earth’s First Mass Extinction Caused By #ClimateChange

Over 550million years ago there was a mass extinction on the Earth which led to the loss of nearly all the animals at the time. This was in the Ediacaran period.

Impressions of the Ediacaran fossils Dickinsonia (at center) with the smaller anchor shaped Parvancorina (left) in sandstone of the Ediacara Member from the Nilpena Ediacara National Park in South Australia. Image credit: Scott Evans.

New research has been published about this first mass extinction of species on Earth.

One of the Scientists leading the research is  Scott Evans, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Geosciences, part of the Virginia Tech College of Science. He explained the findings:

 “This included the loss of many different types of animals, however those whose body plans and behaviors indicate that they relied on significant amounts of oxygen seem to have been hit particularly hard.

“This suggests that the extinction event was environmentally controlled, as are all other mass extinctions in the geologic record.”

It is still not known what caused the drop in oxygen levels.

Evans continued:

“It could be any number and combination of volcanic eruptions, tectonic plate motion, an asteroid impact, etc., but what we see is that the animals that go extinct seem to be responding to decreased global oxygen availability.

“Our study shows that, as with all other mass extinctions in Earth’s past, this new, first mass extinction of animals was caused by major climate change — another in a long list of cautionary tales demonstrating the dangers of our current climate crisis for animal life.”

Shuhai Xiao,a professor in the Department of Geosciences added:

“Environmental changes, such as global warming and deoxygenation events, can lead to massive extinction of animals and profound disruption and reorganization of the ecosystem. This has been demonstrated repeatedly in the study of Earth history, including this work on the first extinction documented in the fossil record. This study thus informs us about the long-term impact of current environmental changes on the biosphere.”

Click on this link to access the report Environmental drivers of the first major animal extinction across the Ediacaran White Sea-Nama transition published in Proceedings of NAS RA Earth Sciences

Impressions of the Ediacaran fossils Dickinsonia (at left) and related but rare form Andiva (at right) in sandstone of the Ediacara Member from the Nilpena Ediacara National Park in South Australia. Image credit Scott Evans

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