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Late Permian community dynamics

Late Permian community dynamics

This is the second presentation that I made at the Annual Conference of the Geological Society of America in Vancouver last month. The presentation was part of a special session, “Extreme Environmental Conditions and Biotic Responses during the Permian-Triassic Boundary Crisis and Early Triassic Recovery”, co-organized my myself, Tom Algeo, Hugo Bucher and Arne Winguth. The session, spanning two days, was excellent, outstanding, and a lot of fun! I came away with the firm conviction that we are beginning to really understand the massive Permo-Triassic mass extinction, from its causes to consequences to recovery. It truly was a watershed “moment” in the history of the biosphere. The full program for both days can be found here and here. And, here is the abstract. An online copy of the presentation is available here.


ROOPNARINE, Peter, Invertebrate Zoology and Geology, California Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Dr, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA 94118, proopnarine@calacademy.org and ANGIELCZYK, Kenneth D., Department of Geology, The Field Museum, 1400 South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60605

A central question of the P/Tr extinction is the manner in which Permian ecological communities collapsed and E. Triassic ones were built. The end Permian Dicynodon Assemblage Zone (DAZ) has recently been resolved into 3 phases of the extinction spanning ~120ky, followed by the E. Triassic (Induan) Lystrosaurus Assemblage Zone (LAZ), offering an opportunity to examine the ecological dynamics of extinction and recovery in enhanced detail. We do this with 2 modelling approaches.

The first model assumes that populations exist in an energetic balance between consumption and predation. Communities are modelled as stochastic variants sampled from a space defined by species richness and functional diversity. Paleoenvironmental data from the DAZ indicate an increasingly seasonal, arid and drought-prone environment. The models were perturbed by simulated reductions of primary productivity. Results show that DAZ Phase 0 (Ph0) was a robust community resistant to low-moderate levels of perturbation with a well-defined collapse threshold. DAZ Ph1 and Ph2, however, exhibit highly variable responses and are significantly less resistant. LAZ similarly exhibits highly variable responses across minor variation of model configurations.

The second model assumes that communities are locally stable, i.e. minor perturbations are followed by asymptotic returns to equilibrium. During this return, however, communities can exhibit transient behavior during which perturbations can be greatly amplified. Amplification is likely to be important in unstable environments when the frequency of perturbations is shorter than the return time to equilibrium. Applying this model to DAZ and LAZ communities shows that the Karoo ecosystem became more limited in its responses to perturbation as the P/Tr boundary was approached, with Ph1 and Ph2 communities exhibiting very little transient behavior. LAZ in contrast exhibits increased transience.

The energetics and stability models are reconcilable in a history where the Karoo ecosystem became more ecologically stable as the extinction unfolded, yet more sensitive to cascading effects of species extinction and reductions of productivity. The Induan ecosystem was an unrecovered one, sensitive to both extinction and minor ecological disturbances.