Sunday, 1 September 2019

Ancient die-off greater than the dinosaur extinction



AUGUST 29, 2019

by Danielle Torrent Tucker, Stanford University

Clues from Canadian rocks formed billions of year ago reveal a previously unknown loss of life even greater than that of the mass extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, when Earth lost nearly three-quarters of its plant and animal species.

Rather than prowling animals, this die-off involved miniscule microorganisms that shaped the Earth's atmosphere and ultimately paved the way for those larger animals to thrive.

"This shows that even when biology on Earth is comprised entirely of microbes, you can still have what could be considered an enormous die-off event that otherwise is not recorded in the fossil record," said Malcolm Hodgskiss, co-lead author of a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Invisible clues

Because this time period preceded complex life, researchers cannot simply dig up fossils to learn what was living 2 billion years ago. Even clues left behind in mud and rocks can be difficult to uncover and analyze.

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