Early Triassic marine biotic recovery: the predators' perspective

PLoS One. 2014 Mar 19;9(3):e88987. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0088987. eCollection 2014.


Examining the geological past of our planet allows us to study periods of severe climatic and biological crises and recoveries, biotic and abiotic ecosystem fluctuations, and faunal and floral turnovers through time. Furthermore, the recovery dynamics of large predators provide a key for evaluation of the pattern and tempo of ecosystem recovery because predators are interpreted to react most sensitively to environmental turbulences. The end-Permian mass extinction was the most severe crisis experienced by life on Earth, and the common paradigm persists that the biotic recovery from the extinction event was unusually slow and occurred in a step-wise manner, lasting up to eight to nine million years well into the early Middle Triassic (Anisian) in the oceans, and even longer in the terrestrial realm. Here we survey the global distribution and size spectra of Early Triassic and Anisian marine predatory vertebrates (fishes, amphibians and reptiles) to elucidate the height of trophic pyramids in the aftermath of the end-Permian event. The survey of body size was done by compiling maximum standard lengths for the bony fishes and some cartilaginous fishes, and total size (estimates) for the tetrapods. The distribution and size spectra of the latter are difficult to assess because of preservation artifacts and are thus mostly discussed qualitatively. The data nevertheless demonstrate that no significant size increase of predators is observable from the Early Triassic to the Anisian, as would be expected from the prolonged and stepwise trophic recovery model. The data further indicate that marine ecosystems characterized by multiple trophic levels existed from the earliest Early Triassic onwards. However, a major change in the taxonomic composition of predatory guilds occurred less than two million years after the end-Permian extinction event, in which a transition from fish/amphibian to fish/reptile-dominated higher trophic levels within ecosystems became apparent.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amphibians / anatomy & histology*
  • Amphibians / classification
  • Amphibians / physiology
  • Animals
  • Biodiversity
  • Biological Evolution
  • Body Size
  • Ecosystem
  • Extinction, Biological*
  • Fishes / anatomy & histology*
  • Fishes / classification
  • Fishes / physiology
  • Food Chain
  • Fossils* / anatomy & histology
  • Paleontology
  • Phylogeny
  • Predatory Behavior / physiology*
  • Reptiles / anatomy & histology*
  • Reptiles / classification
  • Reptiles / physiology
  • Time Factors

Grant support

The Swiss National Science Foundation (http://www.snsf.ch) is acknowledged for past and present project funding (Grant Nos. 31003A_127053 and 146440 to TMS; 135446 to HB and 120311/135075 to W. Brinkmann, Zurich). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.