Were alleged major extinction events real biological catastrophes or merely the result of gaps in the fossil record’ Research by a team of geologists, led by the University of Plymouth, has shed new light on a debate that has divided modern scientists and was recognised as far back as Darwin's Origin of Species.
The team, from the Universities of Plymouth, Bristol and Saratov State in Russia, have uncovered evidence in the Russian Urals that demonstrates the presence of the world's single most severe mass extinction event which took place between the Permian and Triassic ages, some 250 million years ago. The extinction event, thought to be the result of runaway global warming, wiped out between 80-95% of the planet's species.
This highly significant research disproves the currently accepted idea that in Russia this mass extinction event was not recorded and the apparent disappearance in species during this time was in fact due to a gap in the fossil record. Lead researcher, Graeme Taylor explains; "Leading authorities including the authors of the International Timescale suggested that ten million years worth of rock was missing in Russia and that the rocks present were thought to be ten million years older than they are. This would mean that the fossil disappearance in Russia would then pre-date that of everywhere else, seriously undermining the idea of a single mass extinction event."
The scientists matched the magnetic record fossilised within the disputed Russian rocks with those from the rest of the globe, demonstrating that the Russian rocks do indeed record the run-up to the event and the Permian - Triassic period, and therefore the fossil losses in these rocks are part of the mass extinction. Taylor explains the significance of the findings; "There is in fact no Permian-Triassic gap. The record is complete and the mass extinction event is further strengthened as being a major turning point in the history of life on Earth and as the most catastrophic event to have, so far, affected our planet."
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