Functional diversity of marine ecosystems after the Late Permian mass extinction event
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The Late Permian mass extinction event was the most severe such crisis of the past 500 million years and occurred during an episode of global warming. It is assumed to have had significant ecological impact, but its effects on marine ecosystem functioning are unknown and the patterns of marine recovery are debated. We analysed the fossil occurrences of all known Permian-Triassic benthic marine genera and assigned each to a functional group based on their inferred life habit. We show that despite the selective extinction of 62-74% of marine genera there was no significant loss of functional diversity at the global scale, and only one novel mode of life originated in the extinction aftermath. Early Triassic marine ecosystems were not as ecologically depauperate as widely assumed, which explains the absence of a Cambrian-style Triassic radiation in higher taxa. Functional diversity was, however, significantly reduced in particular regions and habitats, such as tropical reefs, and at these scales recovery varied spatially and temporally, probably driven by migration of surviving groups. Marine ecosystems did not return to their pre-extinction state, however, and radiation of previously subordinate groups such as motile, epifaunal grazers led to greater functional evenness by the Middle Triassic.
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