Immediately after the biggest extinction event of all time there were once again functioning and complete food webs in the oceans of the Early Triassic. Contrary to previous assumptions there were large predators, too. Large predatory fish and amphibians, and later dinosaurs too, were the last link in the food chain. This is demonstrated in new studies by palaeontologists at the Universities of Zurich and Utah, USA.
252 million years ago the largest extinction event occurred at the end of the Permian age. It wiped out almost 90 percent of all life in water.
So far researchers had assumed that the ecosystems gradually recovered from this catastrophe over a long stretch of eight to nine million years and that large predators at the uppermost end of the food chain were the last to reappear.
A Swiss-American team of palaeontologists headed by Torsten Scheyer and Carlo Romano from the University of Zurich demonstrate in their new study that the food nets during the Early Triassic did not recover in stages. Large predators like, for instance, crocodile-like amphibians and later the precursors of the known plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs went in search of prey in the oceans soon after the end of the mass extinction.
Large predators in on the action from the very start
Apex predators – large predators at the uppermost end of the food chain – are extremely important for the health and stability of an ecosystem. They eradicate sick and weak animals and exercise constant selection pressure on the species they prey on. Hence, Scheyer and his colleagues wanted to establish whether the apex predators really were missing from the oceans after the mass extinction and how the ecosystems functioned.
The researchers looked at the global distribution of predatory marine vertebrates and their body size in the Early and Middle Triassic and came to surprising conclusions. “The apex marine predators recovered after the large extinction over a very, comparatively short period of time”, says Torsten Scheyer.
The researchers were also able to refute a second theory. Earlier it had been assumed that marine predators grew continuously larger from the Early to the Middle Triassic culminating in the apex predators.
“We now demonstrate that already in the Early Triassic large predators hunted in the seas”, adds Carlo Romano.”The length of the food chains was not shortened by the end-Permian mass extinction. Nor are there any signs of a gradual re-emergence of the classical trophic pyramids from the base to the top”, explains Hugo Bucher.
To gain greater understanding of food webs, attention had to be paid not only to the shape of the food webs but also to the dynamics, i.e. the evolutionary rates of the participating species.
New actors in old roles
The large end-Permian mass extinction led to a completely new composition of apex predators. Large predatory fish were dominant in the Permian age but they had to share this role with predatory crocodile-like amphibians after the mass extinction. Another extinction event around two million years later, the End Smithian crisis, triggered changes in the group of apex predators. From this point in time fish and for the first time reptiles like, for instance, Askeptosaurus were at the uppermost end of the food chains.
“The role of the large predators always remained the same in the ecosystems; only the actors changed over the course of time”, comments Torsten Scheyer when summing up the new results. The researchers are convinced that insight into events in the past will contribute to better understanding of the impact of today’s climate changes on ecosystems.
Torsten M. Scheyer, Carlo Romano, Jim Jenks, Hugo Bucher. Early Triassic Marine Biotic Recovery: The Predators’ Perspective. PLOS ONE, March 19, 2014. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0088987
Dr. Torsten Scheyer
Palaeontological Institute and Museum
University of Zurich
Tel. + 41 634 23 22
Dr. Carlo Romano
Palaeontological Institute and Museum
University of Zurich
Karl Schmid-Strasse 4
CH 8006 Zürich
Tel. + 41 634 23 47
Nathalie Huber | Universität Zürich
GPM sees deadly tornadic storms moving through US Southeast
01.12.2016 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Cyclic change within magma reservoirs significantly affects the explosivity of volcanic eruptions
30.11.2016 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy