New fossil site in China shows long recovery of life from the largest extinction in Earth's history

December 22, 2010

A major new fossil site in south-west China has filled in a sizeable gap in our understanding of how life on this planet recovered from the greatest mass extinction of all time, according to a paper co-authored by Professor Mike Benton, in the School of Earth Sciences, and published this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The work is led by scientists from the Chengdu Geological Center in China.

Some 250 million years ago, at the end of the time known as the Permian, life was all but wiped out during a sustained period of massive volcanic eruption and devastating global warming. Only one in ten species survived, and these formed the basis for the recovery of life in the subsequent time period, called the Triassic. The new fossil site - at Luoping in Yunnan Province - provides a new window on that recovery, and indicates that it took about 10 million years for a fully-functioning ecosystem to develop.

'The Luoping site dates from the Middle Triassic and contains one of the most diverse marine fossil records in the world,' said Professor Benton. 'It has yielded 20,000 fossils of fishes, reptiles, shellfish, shrimps and other seabed creatures. We can tell that we're looking at a fully recovered ecosystem because of the diversity of predators, most notably fish and reptiles. It's a much greater diversity than what we see in the Early Triassic - and it's close to pre-extinction levels.'

Reinforcing this conclusion is the complexity of the food web, with the bottom of the food chains dominated by species typical of later Triassic marine faunas - such as crustaceans, fishes and bivalves - and different from preceding ones. Just as important is the 'debut' of top predators - such as the long-snouted bony fish Saurichthys, the ichthyosaur Mixosaurus, the sauropterygian Nothosaurus and the prolacertiform Dinocephalosaurus - that fed on fishes and small predatory reptiles.

Professor Shixue Hu of the Chengdu group said: 'It has taken us three years to excavate the site, and we moved tonnes of rock. Now, with thousands of amazing fossils, we have plenty of work for the next ten years!'

'The fossils at Luoping have told us a lot about the recovery and development of marine ecosystems after the end-Permian mass extinction,' said Professor Benton. 'There's still more to be discovered there, and we hope to get an even better picture of how life reasserted itself after the most catastrophic global event in the history of our planet.'
-end-


University of Bristol

Related Fossils Articles from Brightsurf:

First exhaustive review of fossils recovered from Iberian archaeological sites
The Iberian Peninsula has one of the richest paleontological records in Western Europe.

Fossils reveal mammals mingled in age of dinosaurs
A cluster of ancient mammal fossils discovered in western Montana reveal that mammals were social earlier than previously believed, a new study finds.

Oldest monkey fossils outside of Africa found
Three fossils found in a lignite mine in southeastern Yunan Province, China, are about 6.4 million years old, indicate monkeys existed in Asia at the same time as apes, and are probably the ancestors of some of the modern monkeys in the area, according to an international team of researchers.

Scientists prove bird ovary tissue can be preserved in fossils
A research team led by Dr. Alida Bailleul from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has proved that remnants of bird ovaries can be preserved in the fossil record.

Biosignatures may reveal a wealth of new data locked inside old fossils
Step aside, skeletons -- a new world of biochemical ''signatures'' found in all kinds of ancient fossils is revealing itself to paleontologists, providing a new avenue for insights into major evolutionary questions.

Fish fossils become buried treasure
Rare metals crucial to green industries turn out to have a surprising origin.

New Argentine fossils uncover history of celebrated conifer group
Newly unearthed, surprisingly well-preserved conifer fossils from Patagonia, Argentina, show that an endangered and celebrated group of tropical West Pacific trees has roots in the ancient supercontinent that once comprised Australia, Antarctica and South America, according to an international team of researchers.

Ancestor of all animals identified in Australian fossils
A team led by UC Riverside geologists has discovered the first ancestor on the family tree that contains most animals today, including humans.

Metabolic fossils from the origin of life
Since the origin of life, metabolic networks provide cells with nutrition and energy.

Fossils of the future to mostly consist of humans, domestic animals
In a co-authored paper published online in the journal Anthropocene, University of Illinois at Chicago paleontologist Roy Plotnick argues that the fossil record of mammals will provide a clear signal of the Anthropocene era.

Read More: Fossils News and Fossils Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.