Nature and Biodiversity

Earth had complex ecosystems earlier than thought, new fossil discovery proves

Previously, it was thought that complex ecosystems would need five to 10 million years to evolve after an extinction.

Previously, it was thought that complex ecosystems would need five to 10 million years to evolve after an extinction. Image: REUTERS/Tomas Bravo

Shirley Cardenas
Researcher and Writer, McGill University
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Nature and Biodiversity?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Nature and Biodiversity is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Nature and Biodiversity

  • The discovery of fossils dating back 250.8 million years suggests that complex ecosystems were present on Earth much earlier than previously thought.
  • Previously, it was thought that complex ecosystems would need 5-10 million years to evolve after an extinction.
  • This has implications for our understanding of how quickly life can respond to extreme crises, says a researcher.

A new fossil discovery reveals complex ecosystems existed on Earth much earlier than previously thought.

The discovery challenges understanding of how quickly life recovered from the greatest mass extinction in Earth’s history.

About 250 million years ago, the Permian-Triassic mass extinction killed over 80% of the planet’s species. In the aftermath, scientists believe that life on Earth was dominated by simple species for up to 10 million years before more complex ecosystems could evolve.

Until now, scientists have long theorized that scorching hot ocean conditions resulting from catastrophic climate change prevented the development of complex life after the mass extinction. This idea is based on geochemical evidence of ocean conditions at the time. Now the discovery of fossils dating back 250.8 million years near the Guizhou region of China suggests that complex ecosystems were present on Earth just one million years after the Permian-Triassic mass extinction, which is much earlier than previously thought.

Discover

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

“The fossils of the Guizhou region reveal an ocean ecosystem with diverse species making up a complex food chain that includes plant life, boney fish, ray-finned fish, crabs, lobsters, shrimp, and mollusks. In all, our team discovered 12 classes of organisms and even found fossilized feces, revealing clues about the diets of these ancient animals,” says Morgann Perrot, a former postdoctoral researcher at McGill University, now at Université du Québec à Montréal.

Previously, it was thought that complex ecosystems would need five to 10 million years to evolve after an extinction. However, the researchers found that the specimens in the Guizhou region evolved much quicker than that by using radiometric dating to date the rocks where the fossils were discovered.

“All of this has implications for our understanding of how quickly life can respond to extreme crises. It also necessitates a re-evaluation of early Triassic ocean conditions,” says Perrot, whose research focuses on earth sciences and geochronology.

Have you read?
Loading...
Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Nature and BiodiversityOcean
Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

We’ve trapped nature action in a silo. An ecological mindset in leadership can help

Shruthi Vijayakumar and Matt Sykes

April 19, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum