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Mass Extinction

Mass Extinction

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Presently environmentalists are concerned about the imbalance caused by human activity and industrial growth in the ecosystem, as it is slowly inundating the forest cover, thereby reducing considerably the area of natural habitat of animal and plant life. It is also affecting adversely the human community in general as it disturbs the natural cycles of critical materials such as water, oxygen, nitrogen or carbon dioxide. Biocide is occurring at an alarming rate. Experts say that at least half of the world’s current species will be completely gone by the end of the century.
Presently environmentalists are concerned about the imbalance caused by human activity and industrial growth in the ecosystem, as it is slowly inundating the forest cover, thereby reducing considerably the area of natural habitat of animal and plant life. It is also affecting adversely the human community in general as it disturbs the natural cycles of critical materials such as water, oxygen, nitrogen or carbon dioxide. Biocide is occurring at an alarming rate. Experts say that at least half of the world’s current species will be completely gone by the end of the century.

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Published by: Dr. Nitish Priyadarshi on Apr 19, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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09/27/2010

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What is Mass Extinction? Are we heading towards otherextinction?
Climate change was at the root of some of the major extinction events of the past.ByDr. Nitish Priyadarshi
Presently environmentalists are concerned about the imbalance caused by human activityand industrial growth in the ecosystem, as it is slowly inundating the forest cover, therebyreducing considerably the area of natural habitat of animal and plant life. It is alsoaffecting adversely the human community in general as it disturbs the natural cycles of critical materials such as water, oxygen, nitrogen or carbon dioxide. Biocide is occurringat an alarming rate. Experts say that at least half of the world’s current species will becompletely gone by the end of the century. Wild plant-life is also disappearing. Most biologists say that we are in the midst of an anthropogenic mass extinction. Numerousscientific studies confirm that this phenomenon is real and happening right now. Shouldanyone really care? Will it impact individuals on a personal level? Scientists say, “Yes!”
Are we heading towards other extinction as it happened in geological past?
Two main sorts of extinction are recognized – background extinction and massextinction. The focus here is on mass extinction, observed at intervals throughoutPhanerozoic history.
 
Embedded in the fossil record is a story of adaptation and recovery followingcatastrophic episodes in which many species become extinct within a geologically shorttime. Such episodes are called mass extinctions. Most people are aware that the dinosaurs became extinct about 65 million years ago, at the boundary between the Cretaceous (K)and Tertiary (T) periods. But many are not aware that other animal and plant species werealso affected. Approximately one-quarter of all known animal families living at the time,including marine and land dwelling species, became extinct at the end of the Cretaceous period. This mass disappearance of species is clearly evident in the fossil record. It is thereason that early paleontologists selected this particular stratigraphic horizon to representa major boundary in the geological timescale.The great K-T extinction is not unique, nor was it the most dramatic of such occurrences.There have been at least 5 and possibly as many as 12 mass extinctions during the past250 million years. The most devastating of these occurred 245 million years ago at theend of the Permian period, when as many as 96 percent of all species died out. Another great extinction occurred at the end of the Triassic period, and several earlier extinctionsaffected marine organisms.What causes mass extinctions? Some evidence suggests that the K-T extinction may have been caused by a giant meteorite impact. If an extraterrestrial body such as a meteorite or a comet 10 km in diameter struck the Earth, it could cause massive environmentaldevastation. The effects could include earthquakes, tsunamis, widespread fires, acid rain,atmospheric particulates that might cause global darkness, and intense climate changes.Evidence for these and related effects has been found in the K-T boundary. Throughoutthe world the boundary is also marked by a thin layer of clay that is rich in the elementiridium (Ir). This is consistent with an influx of extraterrestrial material, becausemeteorites contain a great deal of iridium compared to the amount contained in terrestrialrocks.It is possible that a meteorite impact caused the K-T extinction, but the causes of other major extinctions are not as clear. Many scientists feel that some extinctions-particularlythe great marine extinctions of the Paleozoic era-were more likely caused by climatic or other environmental changes than by catastrophic events such as meteorite impacts.The first event recognized by at least some paleontologists as mass extinction actuallyoccurred in Precambrian time. Its exact timing is uncertain, but it happened near the veryend of the Proterozoic era. The organisms most notably involved were the soft bodiedEdiacarans, although some species of algae seem to disappear at about the same time. If such an event occurred, what was it cause? Sediments from this time period have beenexamined carefully for excess Ir, which might record an impact, but none has been found.With the available (admittedly scanty) evidence, the best explanation seems to be that the preferred habitat of the Ediacaran animals- shallow water environments-was drasticallyreduced in amount because of falling sea levels. Analysis of the sediments still preservedfrom late in Precambrian time suggest that there were repeated cycles of rising andlowering water levels. One of the largest lowerings, also known as regression, during thistime appears to coincide with the extinction of the Ediacarans.
 
Indeed, it is widely believed that sea level change, particularly the lowering of sea level,was a major factor in many of the extinctions in the geologic record. Biological activity istypically high in shallow seas, and times of high sea level provide abundant habitats for marine life, but when the seas withdraw, many of these organisms become extinct. Thetotal range of sea level fluctuations over the past six hundred million years appears tohave been very large, at least 200 meters.The spectacular nature of events at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary has tended toobscure the overwhelming importance of the Permian-Triassic extinctions, which saw theend of most of the species then existing in the oceans. The devastation on land was onlymoderately less extreme. The nature of life on earth was radically changed, and theeffects are with us today in the form of all living plants and animals. The cause of thisevent – or events- are unclear, but it is generally acknowledged that rather severeconditions would have been required to exterminate such a large fraction of life on earth.The picture that seems to be emerging from Permian-Triassic studies is very differentfrom that of the K-T boundary. The Permian-Triassic record is one of complex extinction patterns in the face of complex and partly interrelated environmental change. No heat,clear-cut culprit has been identified, but much has been learned about the mechanisms of extinction. Nevertheless, the links between cause and effect are still quite tenuous.The
Permian–Triassic (P–Tr) extinction event
, informally known as the
Great Dying
,was an extinction event that occurred 251.4 million years ago, forming the boundary between the Permian and Triassic geologic periods. It was the Earth's most severeextinction event, with up to 96 percent of all marine species and 70 percent of terrestrialvertebrate species becoming extinct; it is the only known mass extinction of insects.Fifty-seven percent of all families and 83% of all genera were killed. Because so much biodiversity was lost, the recovery of life on earth took significantly longer than after other extinction events. This event has been described as the "mother of all massextinctions". The pattern of extinction is still disputed, as different studies suggest one tothree different pulses. There are several proposed mechanisms for the extinctions; theearlier peak was likely due to gradualistic environmental change, while the latter was probably due to a catastrophic event. Possible mechanisms for the latter include large or multiple bolide impact events, increased volcanism, or sudden release of methanehydrates from the sea floor; gradual changes include sea-level change, anoxia, increasingaridity, and a shift in ocean circulation driven by climate change.
Triassic–Jurassic extinction event
- 205 Ma at the Triassic-Jurassic transition. About23% of all families and 48% of all genera (20% of marine families and 55% of marinegenera) went extinct. Most non-dinosaurian archosaurs, most therapsids, and most of thelarge amphibians were eliminated, leaving dinosaurs with little terrestrial competition. Non-dinosaurian archosaurs continued to dominate aquatic environments, while non-archosaurian diapsids continued to dominate marine environments. TheTemnospondyl

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