Mass extinction survival is more than just a numbers game

Related Articles

Related Articles

Widespread species are at just as high risk of being wiped out as rare ones after global mass extinction events, says new research by UK scientists.

There have been five mass extinction events in the Earth’s history, including climate change caused by volcanoes and an asteroid hit that wiped out the dinosaurs.

In general, geographically widespread animals are less likely to become extinct than animals with smaller geographic ranges, offering insurance against regional environmental catastrophes.

However, a study published in Nature Communications has found this insurance is rendered useless during global mass extinction events, and that widely distributed animals are just as likely to suffer extinction as those that are less widespread.

The research by Dr Alex Dunhill School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds and Professor Matthew Wills from the University of Bath’s Milner Centre for Evolution, explored the fossil record of terrestrial (land-living) vertebrates (including dinosaurs) from the Triassic and Jurassic periods (252-145 million years ago).

They found that although large geographic ranges do offer insurance against extinction, this insurance disappeared across a mass extinction event that occurred around 200 million years ago (at the Triassic-Jurassic boundary) associated with massive volcanic eruptions and rapid climate change which caused the demise of around 80 per cent of species on the planet.


Subscribe to more articles like this by following our Google Discovery feed - Click the follow button on your desktop or the star button on mobile. Subscribe

During this catastrophic event many groups of crocodile ancestors became extinct, which paved the way for the dinosaurs to rise to dominance in the subsequent Jurassic Period.

Dunhill and Wills mapped how the geographical distribution of groups of organisms changed through the Triassic-Jurassic periods. These distribution maps were then compared with changes in biodiversity to reveal the relationship between geographic range and extinction risk.

This is the first study to analyse the relationship between geographic range and extinction in the terrestrial fossil record and the results are similar to those obtained from the marine invertebrate fossil record.

Alex Dunhill, who started the work at Bath and is now at the University of Leeds, said: “The fact that the insurance against extinction given by a wide geographic distribution disappears at a known mass extinction event is an important result.

“Many groups of crocodile-like animals become extinct after the mass extinction event extinct at the end of the Triassic era, despite being really diverse and widespread beforehand.

“In contrast, the dinosaurs which were comparatively rare and not as widespread pass through the extinction event and go on to dominate terrestrial ecosystems for the next 150 million years.”

Co-author Matthew Wills from the University of Bath’s Milner Centre for Evolution commented: “Although we tend to think of mass extinctions as entirely destructive events, they often shake up the status quo, and allow groups that were previously side-lined to become dominant.

“Something similar happened much later with the extinction of the dinosaurs making way for mammals and ultimately ourselves.

“However, our study shows that the ‘rules’ of survival at times of mass extinctions are very different from those at ‘normal’ times: nothing is ever really safe!”

Dr Dunhill added: “These results shed light on the likely outcome of the current biodiversity crisis caused by human activity. It appears a human-driven sixth mass extinction will affect all organisms, not just currently endangered and geographically restricted species.”

University of Leeds

- Advertisement -

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic

LATEST NEWS

Study Suggests the Mystery of The Lost Colony of Roanoke Solved

The Roanoke Colony refers to two colonisation attempts by Sir Walter Raleigh to establish a permanent English settlement in North America.

Drones Map High Plateaus Basin in Moroccan Atlas to Understand Human Evolution

Researchers from the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH) have been using drones to create high-resolution aerial images and topographies to compile maps of the High Plateaus Basin in Moroccan Atlas.

The Kerguelen Oceanic Plateau Sheds Light on the Formation of Continents

How did the continents form? Although to a certain extent this remains an open question, the oceanic plateau of the Kerguelen Islands may well provide part of the answer, according to a French-Australian team led by the Géosciences Environnement Toulouse laboratory.

Ancient Societies Hold Lessons for Modern Cities

Today's modern cities, from Denver to Dubai, could learn a thing or two from the ancient Pueblo communities that once stretched across the southwestern United States. For starters, the more people live together, the better the living standards.

Volubilis – The Ancient Berber City

Volubilis is an archaeological site and ancient Berber city that many archaeologists believe was the capital of the Kingdom of Mauretania.

Pella – Birthplace of Alexander The Great

Pella is an archaeological site and the historical capital of the ancient kingdom of Macedon.

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.

High-tech CT reveals ancient evolutionary adaptation of extinct crocodylomorphs

The tree of life is rich in examples of species that changed from living in water to a land-based existence.

Fish fossils become buried treasure

Rare metals crucial to green industries turn out to have a surprising origin. Ancient global climate change and certain kinds of undersea geology drove fish populations to specific locations.

Archaeologists Discover Viking Toilet in Denmark

Archaeologists excavating a settlement on the Stevns Peninsula in Denmark suggests they have discovered a toilet from the Viking Age.

Popular stories