Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Antarctica served as climatic refuge in Earth's greatest extinction event

03.12.2009
The largest known mass extinction in Earth's history, about 252 million years ago at the end of the Permian Period, may have been caused by global warming. A new fossil species suggests that some land animals may have survived the end-Permian extinction by living in cooler climates in Antarctica.

Jörg Fröbisch and Kenneth D. Angielczyk of The Field Museum together with Christian A. Sidor from the University of Washington have identified a distant relative of mammals, Kombuisia antarctica, that apparently survived the mass extinction by living in Antarctica.

The new species belongs to a larger group of extinct mammal relatives, called anomodonts, which were widespread and represented the dominant plant eaters of their time. "Members of the group burrowed in the ground, walked the surface and lived in trees," said Fröbisch, the lead author of the study. "However, Kombuisia antarctica, about the size of a small house cat, was considerably different from today's mammals — it likely laid eggs, didn't nurse its young and didn't have fur, and it is uncertain whether it was warm blooded," said Angielczyk, Assistant Curator of Paleomammology at The Field Museum. Kombuisia antarctica was not a direct ancestor of living mammals, but it was among the few lineages of animals that survived at a time when a majority of life forms perished.

Scientists are still debating what caused the end-Permian extinction, but it was likely associated with massive volcanic activity in Siberia that could have triggered global warming. When it served as refuge, Antarctica was located some distance north of its present location, was warmer and wasn't covered with permanent glaciers, said the researchers. The refuge of Kombuisia in Antarctica probably wasn't the result of a seasonal migration but rather a longer-term change that saw the animal's habitat shift southward. Fossil evidence suggests that small and medium sized animals were more successful at surviving the mass extinction than larger animals. They may have engaged in "sleep-or-hide" behaviors like hibernation, torpor and burrowing to survive in a difficult environment.

Earlier work by Fröbisch predicted that animals like Kombuisia antarctica should have existed at this time, based on fossils found in South Africa later in the Triassic Period that were relatives of the animals that lived in Antarctica. "The new discovery fills a gap in the fossil record and contributes to a better understanding of vertebrate survival during the end-Permian mass extinction from a geographic as well as an ecological point of view," Fröbisch said.

The team found the fossils of the new species among specimens collected more than three decades ago from Antarctica that are part of a collection at the American Museum of Natural History. "At the time those fossils were collected, paleontologists working in Antarctica focused on seeking evidence for the existence of a supercontinent, Pangaea, that later split apart to become separate land masses," said Angielczyk. The fossils collected in Antarctica provided some of the first evidence of Pangaea's existence, and further analysis of the fossils can refine our understanding of events that unfolded 250 million years ago.

"Finding fossils in the current harsh conditions of Antarctica is difficult, but worthwhile," said Angielczyk. "The recent establishment of the Robert A. Pritzker Center for Meteoritics and Polar Studies at The Field Museum recognizes the growing importance of the region," he said.

This research is part of a collaborative study of Dr. Jörg Fröbisch (Department of Geology, Field Museum, Chicago), Dr. Kenneth D. Angielczyk (Department of Geology, Field Museum, Chicago), and Dr. Christian A. Sidor (Burke Museum and Department of Biology, University of Washington), which will be published online December 3, 2009 in Naturwissenschaften.

Funding for this research was provided through a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship of the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) to J. Fröbisch and grants of the National Science Foundation to C. A. Sidor.

NOTE: For images, please contact Dr. Jörg Fröbisch at 312-665-7099 or email: jfrobisch@fieldmuseum.org

Jorg Frobisch | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.fieldmuseum.org

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht New Study Will Help Find the Best Locations for Thermal Power Stations in Iceland
19.01.2017 | University of Gothenburg

nachricht Water - as the underlying driver of the Earth’s carbon cycle
17.01.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biogeochemie

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Quantum optical sensor for the first time tested in space – with a laser system from Berlin

For the first time ever, a cloud of ultra-cold atoms has been successfully created in space on board of a sounding rocket. The MAIUS mission demonstrates that quantum optical sensors can be operated even in harsh environments like space – a prerequi-site for finding answers to the most challenging questions of fundamental physics and an important innovation driver for everyday applications.

According to Albert Einstein's Equivalence Principle, all bodies are accelerated at the same rate by the Earth's gravity, regardless of their properties. This...

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Tracking movement of immune cells identifies key first steps in inflammatory arthritis

23.01.2017 | Health and Medicine

Electrocatalysis can advance green transition

23.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

New technology for mass-production of complex molded composite components

23.01.2017 | Process Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>