Ecosystem Change and Carbon Cycle Perturbation Preceded the End-Triassic Mass Extinction

Document Type


Publication Date



Earth Sciences



Publication Title

Earth and Planetary Science Letters


During the Phanerozoic, major global upheavals in life history and the carbon cycle are predominantly linked to the emplacement of large igneous provinces, but the delineation of a cause and effect framework remains unclear. The end-Triassic mass extinction (ETE) is temporally associated with emplacement of the Central Atlantic magmatic province (CAMP). A better understanding of precursor events to the ETE is essential if the mechanisms for this mass extinction are to be fully delineated. Here, we present new high-resolution data integrating petrographic, biotic, mercury, and carbon isotope analyses of the pre-extinction interval at the Ferguson Hill locality, Nevada (USA). We document the “precursor” carbon isotope excursion along with low Hg concentrations and sulphidic sediments prior to the ETE. A combination of proxies reveals disruptions to shallow marine ecosystems and biogeochemical cycles prior to the main phase of CAMP volcanism. We propose that episodic anoxic conditions led to the restructuring of shallow marine benthic ecosystems towards overall lower diversity, including more low oxygen tolerant taxa preceding the ETE. The timing of the initial marine ecosystem restructuring in eastern Panthalassa could be related to the early phase of CAMP emplacement, and implies that an early intrusive event initiated the ecosystem changes. These restructured marine ecosystems reflect the deteriorating environmental conditions leading up to the ETE that ultimately resulted in the ETE.


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