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Nature. 2004 Nov 4;432(7013):97-100.

Ecosystem remodelling among vertebrates at the Permian-Triassic boundary in Russia.

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Department of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol BS8 1RJ, UK.


The mass extinction at the Permian-Triassic boundary, 251 million years (Myr) ago, is accepted as the most profound loss of life on record. Global data compilations indicate a loss of 50% of families or more, both in the sea and on land, and these figures scale to a loss of 80-96% of species, based on rarefaction analyses. This level of loss is confirmed by local and regional-scale studies of marine sections, but the terrestrial record has been harder to analyse in such close detail. Here we document the nature of the event in Russia in a comprehensive survey of 675 specimens of amphibians and reptiles from 289 localities spanning 13 successive geological time zones in the South Urals basin. These changes in diversity and turnover cannot be explained simply by sampling effects. There was a profound loss of genera and families, and simplification of ecosystems, with the loss of small fish-eaters and insect-eaters, medium and large herbivores and large carnivores. Faunal dynamics also changed, from high rates of turnover through the Late Permian period to greater stability at low diversity through the Early Triassic period. Even after 15 Myr of ecosystem rebuilding, some guilds were apparently still absent-small fish-eaters, small insect-eaters, large herbivores and top carnivores.

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