Field of Science

Rainforest Collapse Triggered Carboniferous Tetrapod Diversification in Euramerica

A new paper that argues that ecosystem devestation in the Carboniferous provided conditions that led to increased diversity in amniotes and basically set the stage for the rise of archosaurs in the Mesozoic.

From Science Daily article: "Global warming devastated tropical rainforests 300 million years ago. Now scientists report the unexpected discovery that this event triggered an evolutionary burst among reptiles -- and inadvertently paved the way for the rise of dinosaurs, 100 million years later".  Read more here.

Sahney, S., Benton, M. J., and H. J. Falcon-Lang. 2010. Rainforest collapse triggered Carboniferous tetrapod diversification in Euramerica. Geology 38: 1079-1082. DOI: 10.1130/G31182.1

Abstract - Abrupt collapse of the tropical rainforest biome (Coal Forests) drove rapid diversification of Carboniferous tetrapods (amphibians and reptiles) in Euramerica. This finding is based on analysis of global and alpha diversity databases in a precise geologic context. From Visean to Moscovian time, both diversity measures steadily increased, but following rainforest collapse in earliest Kasimovian time (ca. 305 Ma), tetrapod extinction rate peaked, alpha diversity imploded, and endemism developed for the first time. Analysis of ecological diversity shows that rainforest collapse was also accompanied by acquisition of new feeding strategies (predators, herbivores), consistent with tetrapod adaptation to the effects of habitat fragmentation and resource restriction. Effects on amphibians were particularly devastating, while amniotes (‘reptiles’) fared better, being ecologically adapted to the drier conditions that followed. Our results demonstrate, for the first time, that Coal Forest fragmentation influenced profoundly the ecology and evolution of terrestrial fauna in tropical Euramerica, and illustrate the tight coupling that existed between vegetation, climate, and trophic webs.

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