Subsequent biotic crises delayed marine recovery following the late Permian mass extinction event in northern Italy
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The late Permian mass extinction event was the largest biotic crisis of the Phanerozoic and has the longest recovery interval of any extinction event. It has been hypothesised that subsequent carbon isotope perturbations during the Early Triassic are associated with biotic crises that impeded benthic recovery. We test this hypothesis by undertaking the highest-resolution study yet made of the rock and fossil records of the entire Werfen Formation, Italy. Here, we show that elevated extinction rates were recorded not only in the Dienerian, as previously recognised, but also around the Smithian/Spathian boundary. Functional richness increases across the Smithian/Spathian boundary associated with elevated origination rates in the lower Spathian. The taxonomic and functional composition of benthic faunas only recorded two significant changes: (1) reduced heterogeneity in the Dienerian, and (2) and a faunal turnover across the Smithian/Spathian boundary. The elevated extinctions and compositional shifts in the Dienerian and across the Smithian/Spathian boundary are associated with a negative and positive isotope excursion, respectively, which supports the hypothesis that subsequent biotic crises are associated with carbon isotope shifts. The Spathian fauna represents a more advanced ecological state, not recognised in the previous members of the Werfen Formation, with increased habitat differentiation, a shift in the dominant modes of life, appearance of stenohaline taxa and the occupation of the erect and infaunal tiers. In addition to subsequent biotic crises delaying the recovery, therefore, persistent environmental stress limited the ecological complexity of benthic recovery prior to the Spathian.
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