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Olson's Extinction

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Title: Olson's Extinction  
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Subject: Extinction event, Mulde event, Toarcian turnover, Ireviken event, Medea hypothesis
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Olson's Extinction

Olson's Extinction was a mass extinction that occurred in the Early Guadalupian of the Permian period and which predated the Permian–Triassic extinction event.[1] Everett Olson noted that there was a hiatus and a sudden change in between the Early Permian and Middle/Late Permian faunas. Since then this event has been realized across many groups, including plants, marine invertebrates, and tetrapods.


The first evidence of extinction came when Everett C. Olson noted a hiatus between Early Permian faunas dominated by pelycosaurs and therapsid dominated faunas of the Middle and Late Permian. First considered to be a preservational gap in the fossil record, the event was originally dubbed 'Olson's Gap'.[2][3] To compound the difficulty in identifying the cause of the 'gap', researchers were having difficulty in resolving the uncertainty which exists regarding the duration of the overall extinction and about the timing and duration of various groups' extinctions within the greater process. Theories emerged which suggested the extinction was prolonged, spread out over a several million years[4] or that multiple extinction pulses preceded the Permian–Triassic extinction event.[1][5][6] The impact of Olson's Extinction amplified the effects of the Permian–Triassic extinction event and the final extinction killed off only about 80% of species alive at that time while the other losses occurred during the first pulse or the interval between pulses.

During the 1990s and 2000s researchers gathered evidence on the biodiversity of plants, marine organism and tetrapods that indicated an extinction pulse preceding the Permian–Triassic extinction event had a profound impact on life on land. On land Sahney and Benton showed that even discounting the sparse fossil assemblages from the extinction period, the event can be confirmed by the stages of time bracketing the event since well preserved sections of the fossil record from both before and after the event have been found and they referred to the event as 'Olson's Extinction'.[1] The 'Gap' was finally closed in 2012 when Michael Benton confirmed that the terrestrial fossil record of the Middle Permian is well represented by fossil localities in the American southwest and European Russia and that the gap is not an artifact of a poor rock record since there is no correlation between geological and biological records of the Middle Permian.[7]

Possible causes

There is no widely accepted theory for the cause of Olson's Extinction. Recent research has indicated that climate change may be a possible cause. Extreme environments were observed from the Permian of Kansas which resulted from a combination of hot climate and acidic waters particularly coincident with Olson’s Extinction .[8] Whether this climate change was a result of Earth's natural processes or exacerbated by another event is unknown.

Extinction patterns

On land


Plants showed large turnover in the Mid-Late Permian and into the Triassic. The duration of higher extinction rates (>60%) in land plants was about 23.4 Myr, starting from Olson's Extinction and into the early Middle Triassic.[9]


The Permian was a time of rapid change for tetrapods; in particular there was a major changeover from faunas dominated by basal synapsids ("Cynodontia) some of which were direct ancestors of mammals.[7] Edaphosauridae and Ophiacodontidae died out in an extinction event across the Kungurian/Roadian boundary, although Caseidae and Therapsida diversified.[10] In 2008 Sahney and Benton [1] confirmed that this was not just a turnover (gradual replacement of one faunal complex by another) but a real extinction event in which a significant drop in the biodiversity of tetrapods on a global scale and community level occurred.

In December 2011, the fossilized remains of the 'youngest' pelycosaur was described by Modesto et al. as from 260 million years ago in South Africa, the first evidence that one of these animals survived Olson’s Extinction.[11] This type of animal is called a disaster taxon, an organism that survives a major environmental disruption, and is able to survive, perhaps forming the basis for a new adaptive radiation and their ancestors.

In the water


Using data on chondrichthyan diversity, Koot showed that despite variability in the Permian–Triassic fossil record, the Lopingian is adequate in completeness, specifically, range-through genus diversity is not significantly correlated with the number of taxonomic occurrences. Genus diversity declined from the mid-Guadalupian following an increasing extinction rate, which intensified throughout the Lopingian. This supports a combined overall extinction as a result of the end-Guadalupian and Late Permian events.[12]


Fauna did not recover fully from Olson's Extinction before the impact of the Permian-Triassic extinction event. Estimates of recovery time vary, where some authors indicated recovery was prolonged, lasting 30 million years into the Triassic.[1]

Several important events took place during Olson's Extinction, most notably the origin of therapsids, a group that includes the evolutionary ancestors of mammals. Further research on the recently identified primitive therapsid of the Xidagou Formation (Dashankou locality) in China of Roadian age may provide more information on this topic.[13]


  1. ^ a b c d e Sahney, S.; Benton, M.J. (2008). "Recovery from the most profound mass extinction of all time". Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological 275 (1636): 759–65.  
  2. ^ Lucas, S. G. (2004). "A global hiatus in the Middle Permian tetrapod fossil record". Stratigraphy 1: 47–64. 
  3. ^ Ivakhnenko, M. F. (2005). "Comparative survey of Lower Permian tetrapod faunas of eastern Europe and South Africa". Paleontological Journal 39 (1): 66–71. 
  4. ^ Ward PD, Botha J, Buick R, De Kock MO, Erwin DH, Garrison GH, Kirschvink JL & Smith R (2005). "Abrupt and Gradual Extinction Among Late Permian Land Vertebrates in the Karoo Basin, South Africa". Science 307 (5710): 709–714.  
  5. ^ Retallack, G.J.; Metzger, C.A.; Greaver, T.; Jahren, A.H.; Smith, R.M.H.; Sheldon, N.D. (2006). "Middle-Late Permian mass extinction on land". Bulletin of the Geological Society of America 118 (11–12): 1398–1411.  
  6. ^ Rampino MR, Prokoph A & Adler A (2000). "Tempo of the end-Permian event: High-resolution cyclostratigraphy at the Permian–Triassic boundary". Geology 28 (7): 643–646.  
  7. ^ a b Benton, M.J. (2012). "No gap in the Middle Permian record of terrestrial vertebrates". Geology 40.  
  8. ^ Zambito J.J. IV.; Benison K.C (2013). "Extreme high temperatures and paleoclimate trends recorded in Permian ephemeral lake halite". Geology 41: 587–590.  
  9. ^ Xiong and Wang (2011). "Permian-Triassic land-plant diversity in South China: Was there a mass extinction at the Permian/Triassic boundary?". PALEOBIOLOGY. 
  10. ^ Neil Brocklehurst, Christian F. Kammerer, and Jörg Fröbisch (2013). "The early evolution of synapsids, and the influence of sampling on their fossil record". Paleobiology 39. 
  11. ^ Sean P. Modesto, Roger M. H. Smith, Nicolás E. Campione and Robert R. Reisz (2011). "A global hiatus in the Middle Permian tetrapod fossil record". Naturwissenschaften 98. 
  12. ^ Koot, M.B. 2013. Effects of the late Permian mass extinction on chondrichthyan palaeobiodiversity and distribution patterns
  13. ^ Liu, B; Rubidge; Li, J. (2009). "New basal synapsid supports Laurasian origin for therapsids". Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 54 (3): 393–400.  

Further reading

  • Canadian researchers spearhead fossil discovery of resilient prehistoric animal
  • Why did nearly all life on Earth die 250 million years ago?
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