Too hot to handle: Triassic temps may have killed tropical species

Ars Technica » Scientific Method 2012-10-23

These mountains in China preserve the ocean floor of the Permian-Triassic period.

When ecologists talk about climate change, they tend to recognize there will be winners and losers. While it could drive some species to extinction, others will migrate readily to follow their shifting habitats or adapt to the changing conditions. For the most part though, nobody's expecting we'll end up with ecosystems that are largely barren.

But a new study of the aftermath of a mass extinction event suggests temperatures once got so hot that they left our planet's equatorial regions a place of "lethally hot temperatures," where the few survivors were mostly stunted invertebrates.

As a whole, life on Earth didn't have a lot going well for it at the start of the Triassic. The previous geological period, the Permian, ended with the massive eruptions that generated the Siberian Traps and triggered the biggest mass extinction event on record: the Great Dying. The volcanic activity and subsequent ecosystem changes pumped massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, leaving the few survivors to face intense greenhouse warming and oceans where it was difficult to obtain oxygen.

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