[Environment] ENVIRONMENT: GLOBAL WARMING AND CLIMATE CHANGE : EARTH SCIENCES : PALEONTOLOGY: After a Mass Extinction, Only the Small Survive

 

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ENVIRONMENT: GLOBAL WARMING AND CLIMATE CHANGE :

EARTH SCIENCES :

PALEONTOLOGY:

After a Mass Extinction, Only the Small Survive

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After a Mass Extinction, Only the Small Survive

Carl Zimmer

November 12, 2015

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/13/science/ after-a-mass-extinction-only-the-small-survive.html

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A shorter URL for the above link:

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http://tinyurl.com/ood3loc

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From sharks to giraffes, many of Earths biggest and most magnificent species are threatened with extinction. A new study of the fossil record indicates that once large vertebrates disappear, evolution cannot quickly restore them  for tens of millions of years, most animals remain small.

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The study, published Thursday in Science, emerged from research carried out by Lauren Sallan, a paleontologist at the University of Pennsylvania.

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Studying fish that lived during the Mississippian Period, from 359 million to 323 million years ago, she noticed that they were substantially smaller than their ancestors.

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It piqued my curiosity, Dr. Sallan said in an interview. Why are these fish so small? (She earned a nickname from her fellow paleontologists: the Sardine Queen.)

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Other paleontologists had previously noticed that some groups of species seemed to shrink in size over time. Its called the Lilliput Effect, after the fictional island in Jonathan Swifts Gullivers Travels inhabited by tiny people.

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Researchers found that the Lilliput Effect often occurred after abrupt and widespread extinctions. Dr. Sallans fish appeared to fit the pattern: They shrank after a mass extinction at the end of the Devonian Period, 359 million years ago.

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Scientists suspect that this mass extinction was triggered by a global chill that brought glaciers all the way to the tropics. The deep freeze was brutal both for fishes and for the early land vertebrates (known as tetrapods) that were just starting to clamber around on feet with toes. An estimated 96 percent of all vertebrates became extinct at the beginning of the Mississippian Period.

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The complete article may be read at the URL above.

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