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The ‘Great Dying’ that happened 252 million years ago was followed by ‘a dramatic rebirth of life’

The Great Dying, the largest mass extinction ever on Earth, wiped out 90 percent of life on Earth 250 million years ago, but this devastating period was followed by “a dramatic rebirth of life” in which animals evolved to be faster and smarter than their dead ancestors, according to a new study.

A team of paleontologists, led by the University of Bristol, found that after the end of the Permian extinction, new predators emerged that led prey to develop new defense mechanisms.

Lizards and birds got faster by developing a posture that was more upright and mammals and birds developed a form of insulation – hair or feathers.

The Triassic, from 252-201 million years ago, also saw a huge rise in the energy levels of species, both on land and in water.

Professor Michael Benton of the University of Bristol School of Earth Sciences, the lead author of the new study, said in a: pronunciation: ‘Everything accelerated.

‘Today there is a huge difference between birds and mammals on the one hand and reptiles on the other.

“Reptiles are cold-blooded, meaning they don’t generate much body heat on their own, and while they can scurry around quite quickly, they don’t have stamina and can’t live in the cold.”

Land animals have also evolved, such as lizards.  The newest Permian reptiles moved slowly and used a kind of sprawling stance, like modern lizards, with limbs sticking out at the side - all of which limited their stamina (pictured)

Land animals have also evolved, such as lizards. The newest Permian reptiles moved slowly and used a kind of sprawling stance, like modern lizards, with limbs sticking out at the side – all of which limited their stamina (pictured)

The same thing happened in the oceans, according to Dr. Feixiang Wu of the Institute for Vertebrate Paleontology in Beijing, who explained that fish, lobsters, gastropods and starfish evolved into new styles of hunting.

“They were faster, smoother, and stronger than their ancestors,” Wu continued.

The fossils used in the study were discovered in China and contain a range of predators showing that new styles of hunting appeared earlier than first thought.

Wu found modern sharks and the long fish Saurichthys, which was common worldwide and was an ambush hunter.

This foot-long fish lurked in murky shallow seas and darted forward to grab all sorts of prey in its serrated jaws.

Mammals and birds in the Early and Middle Triassic developed a form of insulation, hairs in the mammalian line, feathers in the bird line

Mammals and birds in the Early and Middle Triassic developed a form of insulation, hairs in the mammalian line, feathers in the bird line

Other Triassic fish from China were adapted to crush shells,” said Dr. Wu.

‘Several large groups of fish, and even some reptiles, became grenade-breakers, with large teeth. We even found the world’s oldest flying fish, and this was probably to escape the new predators.’

Land animals have also evolved, such as lizards.

The newest Permian reptiles were sluggish and used a sort of sprawling stance, like modern lizards, with limbs sticking out at the side — all of which limited their stamina.

However, those that came after the Great Dying were more upright, allowing them to move faster and longer.

“Biologists have long debated the origin of endothermy, or warm-bloodedness, in birds and mammals,” says Prof. Benton.

‘We can trace their ancestry as far back as the Carboniferous, more than 300 million years ago, and some researchers have recently suggested that they were already endothermic then. Others say they only became endothermic in the Jurassic, say 170 million years ago.

“But all sorts of evidence from examining the cells in their bones, and even the chemistry of their bones, suggest that both groups became warm-blooded in the aftermath of the great mass extinction at the end of the Permian, early Triassic.”

The Permian extinction, dubbed 'The Great Dying', was caused by a massive volcanic eruption that lasted nearly a million years in present-day Siberia.  About 95 percent of marine life and 70 percent of life on land have been wiped out

The Permian extinction, dubbed ‘The Great Dying’, was caused by a massive volcanic eruption that lasted nearly a million years in present-day Siberia. About 95 percent of marine life and 70 percent of life on land have been wiped out

The origin of endothermy in birds and mammals in the Early to Middle Triassic is suggested by two other changes: their ancestors were mainly upright during that time.

These animals stood higher on their hind legs, similar to modern dogs, horses and birds, giving them more energy for longer strides.

And second, in the Early and Middle Triassic, mammals and birds developed some form of insulation, hairs in the mammalian line, feathers in the bird line.

“If this is true, and new fossil evidence seems to confirm this, all the evidence points to major changes in these reptiles as the world rebuilt itself after the mass extinction at the end of the Permian,” the researchers said.

“Overall, animals on land and in the oceans were accelerating, expending more energy and moving faster,” Benton says.

‘Biologists call these kinds of processes ‘arms races’, referring to the Cold War. As one side accelerates and becomes more warm-blooded, so should the other side. This affects competition between herbivores or competition between predators.

“It also refers to predator-prey relationships: if the predator gets faster, so does the prey to escape.”

“It was the same underwater,” Wu said. ‘As the predators became faster, sharper and smarter at attacking their prey, these animals had to develop defense mechanisms. Some got thicker shells, or developed spines, or became faster themselves to help them escape.’

“These aren’t new ideas,” Benton says. “What’s new is that we’re now discovering that they all apparently happened around the same time, through the Triassic.

“This highlights a kind of positive aspect of mass extinctions. Mass extinctions were, of course, terrible news for all victims. But the massive clean-up of ecosystems in this case gave the biosphere enormous opportunities to rebuild itself, with a higher octane number than before the crisis.’

The Permian extinction, dubbed ‘The Great Dying’, was caused by a massive volcanic eruption that lasted nearly a million years in present-day Siberia.

About 95 percent of marine life and 70 percent of life on land was wiped out.

THE EARTH HAS HAD FIVE MAJOR EXTERMINATION EVENTS WITH THE MOST FAMOUS A DINOSAUR KILLING ASTEROIDS

Five times, a vast majority of life in the world has been wiped out in what are called mass extinctions.

End Ordovician mass extinction
The first of the traditional big five extinction events, about 540 million years ago, was probably the second most serious. Virtually all life was in the sea at the time and about 85% of these species disappeared.

Late Devonian Mass Extinction

About 375-359 million years ago, major environmental changes triggered a prolonged extinction event that wiped out large fish groups and halted the formation of new coral reefs for 100 million years.

Five times, a vast majority of life in the world has been wiped out in what are called mass extinctions.  The most famous is perhaps the Late Cretaceous, which wiped out the dinosaurs.  Artist impression

Five times, a vast majority of life in the world has been wiped out in what are called mass extinctions. The most famous is perhaps the Late Cretaceous, which wiped out the dinosaurs. Artist impression

End Permian mass extinction (the Great Dying)
The largest extinction event and the one that most deeply affected Earth’s ecology occurred 252 million years ago. As many as 97% of the species that leave a fossil record are gone forever.

End Triassic Mass Extinction
Dinosaurs first appeared in the early Triassic, but large amphibians and mammal-like reptiles were the dominant land animals. The rapid mass extinction that happened 201 million years ago changed that.

Late Cretaceous Mass Extinction

An asteroid hit Earth 66 million years ago and is often blamed for ending the reign of the dinosaurs.

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