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The Earth has existed for about 4.

5 billion years, and life on Earth has


existed for about 3.8 billion years. Throughout the history of life on Earth,
there have been several major leaps in the complexity of life forms, periods
of specific or unique development in life forms, as well as mass extinction
events, all of which have shaped the ecosystem into what it is today. First,
we will focus on the major leaps in complexity, known as mini-thresholds.
The 6 mini-thresholds of life on Earth are sudden leaps in the
complexity of life that have shaped the current ecosystem into how we know
it today. The first mini-threshold is the development of photosynthesis,
which is the use of sunlight as energy, in prokaryotes, which are the earliest
single-celled organisms. Prokaryotes likely evolved near volcanic vents at
the bottom of the ocean, and used their heat and chemical (food) energy to
survive. About 3.5 billion years ago, some of the prokaryotes moved upward
and evolved to use the abundant energy from the sun as their new source of
heat and chemical energy. The process that is used to collect this energy is
photosynthesis. This allowed for life to spread upward from the bottom of
the ocean, consequently creating a large amount of photosynthesizing life.
Over millions of years, these life forms slowly transformed our atmosphere
from one rich with carbon dioxide to one rich with oxygen. Unfortunately,
many of the single-celled organisms could not breathe in an atmosphere with
such a large amount of oxygen, so a large portion of the prokaryotes died
off.
Around 2.5 billion years ago, a new species that was able to live off of
oxygen filled the place of the prokaryotes, and are known as eukaryotes,
starting the second mini-threshold. Eukaryotes were not only able to survive
and thrive off of the Earths oxygen rich atmosphere, but they had features
that the prokaryotes did not. Eukaryotes have a shell inside of them called a
nucleus, which is used to store and protect their DNA; this allows for their
genetic information to remain unharmed. Another unique feature is their set
of organelles, which act as organs to help them process oxygen, manage
waste, photosynthesize, and more.
The third mini-threshold happened around 1 billion years ago, when
different eukaryotic cells started to form the first multi-cellular organisms.
These organisms could contain billions of cells, and each cell is dedicated to
a different purpose, such as waste management, and they each share the
same DNA. Multi-cellular organisms could also respond to the environment

in ways that single-celled organisms could not, thus allowing them to


survive and evolve to new levels of complexity
At the start of the next mini-threshold, all of the multi-cellular
organisms needed a way to coordinate all of the processes going on inside of
them. Eventually, special nerve cells became the ones that were in charge of
the bodys processes, and they formed in the head and spinal chords to create
the first brains. Organisms with brains could process a much greater amount
of information, react to it in new ways, gained the ability to think, and
possibly even gave them consciousness. Brains also act as the command
center for voluntary and involuntary actions, such as the action of lifting an
arm or the beating of a heart.
The fifth mini-threshold started about 475 million years ago, when life
moved to land. There was a great abundance of land for the multi-cellular
organisms to live, and there was very little competition for the area.
However, these creatures had to develop new features in order to survive on
land, such as special skins to avoid drying out, ways to breathe outside of
water, and new ways to reproduce. In fact, eggs are the result of reptiles
evolving to reproduce on land; they were the substitute for breeding and
birth in the water, as they simulated a similar environment for the creature
inside of the egg.
The final mini-threshold is the development of mammals around 250
million years ago. Mammals have several differences from reptiles, as
mammals have fur, are warm blooded, and give birth to their offspring as
opposed to laying eggs. Although, it is argued as to whether or not this is an
important part of the history of life on Earth, as mammals are just another
type of species, such as reptiles. The main reason that it is a mini-threshold
is likely because of the fact that humans are mammals, consequently making
the sixth mini-threshold the beginning of us. The mini-thresholds of life on
Earth also crossover to the various periods of different types of life, and
ultimately the 5 mass extinctions of life on Earth.
Life on Earth has come in thousands of varieties over the billions of years
that it has existed, and many mass extinctions are within these periods of
new variety. In fact, between the start of multi-cellular life and today, there
have been 5 mass extinction events. These extinctions occur in niches, which
are certain environments that require the species living in them to have
specific traits to survive; examples would be jungles, oceans, or deserts.

Once a niche has a large amount of life, there is a large amount of


competition between the surviving species and, as the niches environment
has stabilized, evolution slows down due to the lack of adaptions needed.
However, once a mass extinction event wipes out most of the species living
in a niche, the remaining species have a large area to grow into, a lack of
competitors, and evolve new traits; this process is known as an adaptive
radiation. There have been several eras in which a certain kind of life fills
most of the niches, from large insects to fish. The first one is the Ediacarin
era, which lasted from 630-542mya (million years ago). This period
provides the first fossil evidence of multi-cellular life, which is mostly made
up of underwater plants, worm-like creatures, and mollusks. Once the
Cambrian era (542-485mya) came along, adaptive radiation, which is the
rapid evolution of creatures in a low population niche, came into effect and
thousands of underwater niches were filled and several of the famous fossils
that are known today come from this era. One of which are the trilobites,
which are bug-like exoskeleton creatures, and they did not go extinct for
nearly 300 million years.
By the Ordivician era (485-445mya), photosynthesizing multi-cellular
organisms slowly began to move onto land. This started with small plants,
which over millions or years moved further inland. Meanwhile in the ocean,
underwater plants and animals continued to grow more complex, from
sharks to meter-long scorpions. The current niches were extremely full of
life, which made it incredibly difficult for any new life to come into play.
Ordivician Earth went through a period of incredible cold, and then
incredible heat, thus killing off a large portion of the species that lived in
both of those environments, marking the first mass extinction event. With
this event sweeping the niches clean, new species and surviving species had
room to grow and evolve: adaptive radiation.
In the Silurian era (445-420mya), creatures that evolved from the
recent period of adaptive radiation and moved onto land became known as
the arthropods: exoskeleton species that are the ancestors of todays bugs.
With an increasing amount of photosynthesizing plants colonizing the land
and increasing the oxygen percentage of the atmosphere, the arthropods took
advantage of their environment and the increasing amounts of oxygen to
grow to enormous sizes. Devonian Earth (420-360mya) had many large and
lush forests, with moss, shrubs, and the first trees, which used their wooden
covering for structural support and allowed them to grow tall and gather the

sunlight needed to survive in their niche. The Devonian period also brought
along vertebrate creatures, which have their skeletons on the inside, unlike
creatures with exoskeletons. Although, vertebrates have more porous skin,
causing them to dry out faster, causing them to spread to land at a slower
rate; they were amphibians. After this period was another mass extinction
event, but the cause in currently unknown to scientists. The Carboniferous
period (360-300mya) further increased the forestation on Earths surface,
and amphibians were beginning to fill up the coastal parts of the surface and
laid eggs to avoid returning to water; These were reptiles.
In the Permian era (300-250mya), many of the forests dried out and
created deserts, and the reptiles thrived off of this new environment. At the
end of this period, the third mass extinction event occurred, and is the single
largest of the past half billion years. The exact cause is still debated, but the
dominant theory is that a major volcanic event occurred in Siberia. Given
how 90% of underwater species and 70% of land species were killed, a
massive adaptive radiation event occurred and allowed reptiles to grow to
massive sizes, starting the Triassic period (250-200mya). Most of the Earth
at this point was extremely dry and hot, while the north and south poles were
warm and wet in comparison. The mass extinction event at the end of the
Triassic period was caused by either another volcanic event or an asteroid
impact, which started the Jurassic (200-145mya) and Cretaceous (14566mya) periods, where dinosaurs became the dominant species. To put it
into perspective, the Jurassic period contained the iconic stegosaurus, and
the Cretaceous period contained the t-rex, and the dinosaurs were around for
a whopping 130 million years. The most recent mass extinction event
happened when an asteroid approximately 10 kilometers across crashed into
the Earth, wiping out the dinosaurs and allowing the current dominant
species to fill in the niches: mammals. This 3.8 billion year period is known
as the Evolutionary Epic.