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Ecological diversity of land vertebrates through the largest extinction in Earth history

Project description

Impact of mass extinction on land vertebrate evolution

Past mass extinction events, such as the Permian–Triassic mass extinction (PTME) that killed over 70 % of vertebrate species, have played a fundamental role in evolution by enabling new groups of animals to diversify. However, the ecological impacts of mass extinctions on ecosystems are still poorly understood. The EU-funded ECODIV project will study the fossil record of Permian-Triassic ecosystems along with new field data from critical time intervals to determine how the ecological structure and composition of land ecosystems changed across the PTME and its connection to biodiversity recovery. By applying novel approaches modified from modern ecology, the project will quantify changes in ecological diversity, richness and stability of land ecosystems and major vertebrate groups to understand which factors drive biodiversity and the evolution of ecosystems during and after times of crisis.

Objective

Contemporary Earth’s ecosystems are threatened by accelerating extinction rates, but their responses to biodiversity losses are not detectable on short time scales. However, many large-scale biodiversity crises, or ‘mass extinctions’, occurred in the past and played a fundamental role in evolution. For instance, modern-style ecosystems originated from the worst biodiversity crisis in Earth history (PTME) at the Permian-Triassic boundary (~252 million years ago). The PTME killed over 70% of vertebrate species and created opportunities for new groups to diversify. After the extinction, Triassic land vertebrate assemblages were transformed, and new species diversified in ecological roles that were unexploited in Permian ecosystems. This suggests that extinctions may change the evolutionary trajectory of ecosystems and increase ecological complexity. Nevertheless, the ecological impacts of mass extinctions on ecosystems are still poorly understood. For the first time, this project critically investigates how the ecological structure and composition of land ecosystems changed across the PTME and its connection to biodiversity recovery. We will target the fossil record of exceptionally preserved Permian-Triassic ecosystems, alongside new field data from critical, but poorly sampled time intervals. Using a suite of novel approaches modified from modern ecology, we will quantify changes in ecological diversity, richness and stability of land ecosystems and major vertebrate groups. These patterns will be used to understand what factors drive biodiversity and the evolution of ecosystems during and after times of crisis. Through a comprehensive training and knowledge exchange programme, the experienced researcher and hosts will bring together and integrate their expertise in palaeontology, biology, quantitative techniques, and macroevolution to deliver this timely, innovative, and interdisciplinary project that will address fundamental ecological questions.

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Coordinator

THE UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM
Net EU contribution
€ 271 732,80
Address
Edgbaston
B15 2TT Birmingham
United Kingdom

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Region
West Midlands (England) West Midlands Birmingham
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Links
Other funding
€ 0,00

Partners (1)