Bizarre Fossil Shows Early Marine Life Evolved Rapidly After Mass Extinction

Posted: May 23 2016, 10:26pm CDT | by , Updated: May 24 2016, 11:13am CDT, in News | Latest Science News


Bizarre Fossil Shows Early Marine Life Evolved Rapidly After Mass Extinction
Fossil of Sclerocormus parviceps. Credit: Da-yong Jiang

The discovery hints at life after mass extinction and shows early marine reptiles did not evolve slowly after Permian-Triassic mass extinction 250 million years ago.

Scientists have discovered fossil remains of a short snouted marine reptile that was evolved and diversified rapidly after a mass extinction 250 million years ago; challenging the existing theory that life after great Permian-Triassic mass extinction was slow to evolve. 

Permian-Triassic mass extinction was the most devastating known extinction event where 96% of all marine species wiped out, mainly due to climate change, volcanic eruptions and rising sea levels.

The newfound specimen named Sclerocormus parviceps is an early ichthyosaurs which was manage to survive the tough times. It went through serious transformation in the wake of Permian extinction event and in a fairly short time frame. 

The bizarre sea creature lived around the time of the earliest dinosaurs. The ichthyosaurs looked a bit like modern-day dolphins but the new species discovered in China is something of a black sheep, lacking a long snout and typical big fins at the end of the tail. In short, the newfound creature was different from the rest of ichthyosaurs in every respect and provides invaluable insight into how life evolved after the catastrophe event. 

“Sclerocormus tells us that ichthyosauriforms evolved and diversified rapidly at the end of the Lower Triassic period," said Olivier Rieppel from The Field Museum. “We don’t have many marine reptile fossils from this period, so this specimen is important because it suggests that there’s diversity that hasn’t been uncovered yet.”

For a long time, scientists believed that early marine reptiles that lived through the mass extinction were not quick enough to evolve and diversify but new discovery has turned the old theory on its head and helped scientists understand how the evolution actually works. “Darwin’s model of evolution consists of small, gradual changes over a long period of time, and that's not quite what we’re seeing here,” said Rieppel. “These ichthyosauriforms seem to have evolved very quickly, in short bursts of lots of change, in leaps and bounds.”

The finding suggests that evolution is not always like we predict. It can respond to huge environmental pressures in varied ways and time scales. 

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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