Wouldn’t you want to know how and when life on Earth started? Well, you’re not alone.
Scientists formulated theories that could explain life on Earth. In fact, there are a number of theories on the origin of life according to LiveScience – from Big Bang to evolution.
However, one thing is for sure. The fossils became windows to see what Earth looked like and what life was millions of years ago. Scientists started to study and divide Earth’s geological time into eras, periods, and epochs.
According to Georgia State University, the entire interval of the existence of visible life is called the Phanerozoic eon, and one of the eras mentioned under this particular eon was the Paleozioc era, which means “ancient life”
Paleozoic era was then subdivided into seven periods based on identifiable changes in life-forms, and what piqued our interest is the last period of this era – the Permian period. Here are the reasons why:
1. The supercontinent of Pangaea is now complete
At the beginning of Permian, life on Earth was pretty much the same as it had been during the Carboniferous period. But the smaller continents moved to form into a supercontinent called “Pangaea” and it changed everything.
I say “supercontinent” because, during this period, all of the continents were fused into one big mass. North and South America collided to Africa, Eurasia was in the north, and Antarctica and Australia merged to the south.
The receding sea levels didn’t help in preserving life forms from the previous period. In fact, this geographical configuration ultimately contributed to the mass extinction that happened.
Most of Earth’s land area was pushed inland that it cannot be reached by the ocean waters which led to…
2. It was a period of massive climate change
At the beginning of the Permian period, the Earth was still in the grip of an ice age. However, the period ended in quite the opposite manner. It is considered a period of transition wherein the Carboniferous biomes continued to exist during the early epoch but spelled death during the mid-Permian.
During this time, the climate became arid which concluded the existence of the mighty swamp forests as well as the faunas that depended on them. Indeed, the Permian period saw climate change on an unprecedented scale.
And because changes in climate are associated with fluctuations in sea levels, it plummeted towards the end of the period to some 66 feet (20 m) below the current level from 200 feet (60 m) higher than today.
Here’s the news. Global warming is not new – it’s been around for millions of years.
It became so extreme during the Permian period that it formed…
3. The biggest desert the world has ever known appeared during this period
The great diversity of near-shore, freshwater, and swamp forests declined because of the increasing aridity during the Permian period. Furthermore, extreme global warming resulted in a deadly drop in sea levels which gave way to a sun-bleached desert that dominated the interior of Pangaea.
According to Live Science, the center of Pangea became a desert. Brendan Murphy, a geology professor at the St. Francis Xavier University, in Antigonish, Nova Scotia said:
The interior of the continent may have been utterly dry, as it was locked behind massive mountain chains that blocked all moisture or rainfall.
The sun-scorched land resulted in…
4. Extinction of water-loving plants and animals
Overall, the earth was dry during the Permian Period which became deadly to water-loving floras and faunas. The rich swamps from the Carboniferous period dried up and many of the plants and animals that needed the water died along with it.
However, new species emerged…
5. Plants adapted to the dry climate
While many died, new plants also developed which were better adapted to the dryer conditions. These plants are called gymnosperms and according to biology, they are vascular plants that reproduce by means of an exposed seed, or ovule.
To make it easier, let’s just say the first seed-bearing plants appeared during this period. In fact, one of the earliest of these plants still exists today in the form of…
6. Coniferous forests spread
According to Britannica, the fossil plant record for the Early Permian Epoch consists predominantly of ferns and lycophytes. But in the middle part of this period, early coniferophytes became abundant and aggressive in spreading out.
Conifers, or trees with seeds in cones, thrived throughout the Permian, survived the extinction, and still exists today. Not only that, but certain animals also flourished such as…
7. It marked the emergence of important reptiles
Climate change affected how animals evolved. As the swamps dried out, reptiles replaced the amphibians that had depended on the swamps for moist habitat.
While amphibians need a wet condition to survive, reptiles have bodies that could live in the very dry air and make it through the wide changes in temperature. Reptile fossils dating back to the Permian period include the ancestors of dinosaurs, snakes, lizards, and turtles as well as…
8. Mammalian ancestors increased in number
According to this evolution article, mammals evolved from mammal-like reptiles which proliferated during the Permian period. These reptiles are called synapsids and it is divided into two orders: the pelycosaurs and therapsids.
They were highly diversified and had remarkably mammal-like dentition and bone structure. Among them were the carnivorous and large predators such as the pristeognathus and gorgonopsids.
Roger Smith, a paleontologist at the South African Museum, said:
“We’ve found fossils of many kinds of synapsids in these rocks, especially tortoise-beaked dicynodonts, which likely lived in herds and browsed on vegetation along the riverbanks. There were also a lot of smaller grazers and root grubbers, like Diictodon, a dachshund-shaped dicynodont that probably dug up roots and shoots. They were preyed upon by gorgonopsians—fleet-footed synapsid carnivores with needle-sharp teeth.”
Not only did the terrestrial plants and animals thrived, but also the…
9. Corals began to produce again
At the end of the Devonian period, it would take almost 100 million years before corals re-appeared according to the Global Reef Project. These warm-water marine invertebrates were now making huge reefs again during the Permian after almost being wiped out.
However, Earth would experience the greatest extinction in its history when this happened…
10. Permian extinction – the Great Dying
At the end of the Permian period, most of life on Earth would be wiped out.
According to Britannica, that includes the elimination of about half of all families, approximately 95 percent of marine species, and about 70 percent of land species. It was the largest mass extinction that had ever occurred in Earth’s history.
This article claims no extinction since has killed so much of the life on the planet. Most species died – from corals to synapsids, there was no escape from the harsh conditions of the Permian era.
According to this scientific content, Permian era suffered from not one but two mass extinctions. The cause is unknown and difficult to pinpoint but various theories include:
1. A collision between Earth and an asteroid
According to ScienceDirect, the impact of asteroid or comet triggered the death of the species. It set up a series of events that caused changes to temperature and sea levels which killed almost every life on Earth at that time.
2. Too much volcanic activity
According to MIT news, underground magma pulse triggered the end-Permian extinction.
Seth Burgess, the author of the research paper, said:
“This first pulse of sills generated a huge volume of greenhouse gases, and things got really bad, really fast. Gases warmed the climate, acidified the ocean, and made it very difficult for things on land and in the ocean to survive. And we think the smoking gun is the first pulse of Siberian Traps sills.”
There are other theories available – from the sudden release of methane from the sea floor to increasing anoxia and increasing aridity. But no matter what the cause is, it was too savage and catastrophic which led to an extinction event of truly epic proportions
The Permian period is both the beginning and the end – the beginning of an epoch that caused the end of an era. Although the worst extinction during the Permian is considered to be the greatest murder mystery of all time, we can still learn from it.
Indeed, the world will keep on spinning, with or without us.