New Fossil Evidence Reveals That First Mass Extinction Was Caused By Early Animals

Posted: Aug 1 2016, 8:48am CDT | by , Updated: Aug 1 2016, 8:55pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News


New Fossil Evidence Reveal that First Mass Extinction was Caused by Early Animals
Credit: Simon Darroch / Vanderbilt University

New research suggests that the evolution of more complex biological organisms altered the environment so radically that it drove the older species to extinction.

Around 540 million years ago, a catastrophic event took place and wiped out the biological life existing on Earth. The event was known as end-Ediacaran extinction and was an important phase in the history of our planet because it was the first of its kind. Unfortunately, scientists know very little about the event as the picture is smudged in places and is missing certain bits of information.

Now, archeologists have discovered fossil evidence in Namibia and the analysis of the newfound fossils suggests that the first mass extinction may be triggered by the rapid evolution of species. New biological organisms brought so radical changes in the environment that it drove the older species to extinction.

The early life of earth was simple and consisted of single-cell organisms until the fist multicellular organisms were evolved tens of billions of years later. One of the most successfully species of that period was Ediacarans that were mainly immobile creatures living in the water and they were followed by a relatively complex species called metazoans – earliest animals. 

Then, a significant evolutionary event called Cambrian explosion took place which was marked by the formation of even more complex and diverse species like vertebrates, mollusks, arthropods, annelids, sponges and jellyfish - the animal families that still exist today. Fossil remains from that period show that the newly evolved organisms were likely responsible for pushing the already existing animals towards the extinction. 

“These new species were 'ecological engineers' who changed the environment in ways that made it more and more difficult for the Ediacarans to survive,” said Simon Darroch, professor of earth and environmental sciences at Vanderbilt University.

“Until this, the evidence for an overlapping ecological association between metazoans and soft-bodied Ediacaran was limited. Here, we describe new fossil localities from southern Namibia that preserve soft-bodied Ediacara biota, enigmatic tubular organisms thought to represent metazoans and vertically oriented metazoan trace fossils. Although the precise identity of the tracemakers remains elusive, the structures bear several striking similarities with a cone-shaped organism called Conichnus that has been found in the Cambrian period.”

Finding fossil remains of Ediacara is rare because those soft bodied creatures were not properly preserved and decayed over time. However, newly discovered fossils provide the best evidence of ecological relationship between the two groups and enable researchers to understand how these two entirely different groups interacted with each other millions of years ago.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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