Extinction: How Life on Earth Nearly Ended 250 Million Years Ago
Some 250 million years ago, the earth suffered the greatest biological crisis in its history. Around 95% of all living species died out--a global catastrophe far greater than the dinosaurs' demise 65 million years ago. How this happened remains a mystery. But there are many competing theories. Some blame huge volcanic eruptions that covered an area as large as the continental United States; others argue for sudden changes in ocean levels and chemistry, including burps of methane gas; and still others cite the impact of an extraterrestrial object, similar to what caused the dinosaurs' extinction.
Extinction is a paleontological mystery story. Here, the world's foremost authority on the subject provides a fascinating overview of the evidence for and against a whole host of hypotheses concerning this cataclysmic event that unfolded at the end of the Permian.
After setting the scene, Erwin introduces the suite of possible perpetrators and the types of evidence paleontologists seek. He then unveils the actual evidence--moving from China, where much of the best evidence is found; to a look at extinction in the oceans; to the extraordinary fossil animals of the Karoo Desert of South Africa. Erwin reviews the evidence for each of the hypotheses before presenting his own view of what happened.
Although full recovery took tens of millions of years, this most massive of mass extinctions was a powerful creative force, setting the stage for the development of the world as we know it today.
Douglas Erwin blends careful scholarship and graceful prose in this authoritative elucidation of Earth's greatest mass extinction. Although framed in terms of hypotheses and their tests, Erwin's story unfolds as a gripping who-done-it for the ages.--Andrew H. Knoll, Harvard University, author of Life on a Young Planet
"Douglas Erwin is the world's leading expert on the end-Permian extinction. This book will be the standard reference on this crucial event in the history of life. It is a wonderful example of science in action."--Richard Bambach, Virginia Tech
"This book provides an up-to-date review and critical appraisal of all we know about the end-Permian mass extinction, a subject that has drawn much popular attention. Complementing its solid scholarship, its friendly style enables educated general readers to get to grips with all the current debates."--Paul Wignall, University of Leeds, author of Mass Extinctions and Their Aftermaths
"In conversational prose, Douglas Erwin provides a useful roadmap to a complex scientific subject--an up-to-date treatment of the end-Permian extinction."--Michael J. Foote, University of Chicago
Acknowledgments vii CHAPTER 1: Introduction 1 CHAPTER 2: A Cacophony of Causes 17 CHAPTER 3: South China Interlude 59 CHAPTER 4: It's a Matter of Time 77 CHAPTER 5: Filter Feeding Fails 98 CHAPTER 6: South African Eden 124 CHAPTER 7: The Perils of Permian Seas 161 CHAPTER 8: Denouement 187 CHAPTER 9: Resurrection and Recovery 218 CHAPTER 10: The Paradox of the Permo-Triassic 245 Notes 263 References 275 Index 293
Douglas H. Erwin is senior scientist and curator in the Department of Paleobiology at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and an external faculty member of the Santa Fe Institute. He began researching the end-Permian mass extinction in the early 1980s and has traveled many times to China, South Africa, and Europe seeking its causes.
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