Thursday, 3 September 2015

The first mass extinction was caused by animals, not catastrophe


by Chuck Bednar

It wasn’t a massive asteroid crashing into the Earth’s surface or the eruption of an enormous volcano that led to the first known mass extinction, according a new study – rather, the evolution of complex biological organisms capable of altering their environment was the cause.

The research, which was published Wednesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, analyzed the events that resulted in the extinction of the world’s first multicellular lifeforms, the Ediacarans, roughly 540 years ago. The authors of that paper concluded that early animals caused dramatic changes to the prehistoric environment that led to the Ediacarans’ demise.

Simon Darroch, an assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences at Vanderbilt University, and his colleagues believe that their research has provided the first quantitative palaeoecological evidence suggesting that evolution, along with ecosystem engineering and biological interactions, was the root cause of the first mass extinction of complex life.

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