Tiny ‘Engineers’ Caused First Mass Extinction


The full post by David Salisbury was originally written for Futurity

We tend to associate mass extinctions with catastrophic events, like giant meteorite impacts and volcanic super-eruptions. The world’s first known mass extinction—about 540 million years ago— appears to have had a more subtle cause: evolution itself.

“People have been slow to recognize that biological organisms can also drive mass extinction,” says Simon Darroch, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences at Vanderbilt University.

“But our comparative study of several communities of Ediacarans, the world’s first multicellular organisms, strongly supports the hypothesis that it was the appearance of complex animals capable of altering their environments, which we define as ‘ecosystem engineers,’ that resulted in the Ediacaran’s disappearance.”

The study appears in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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Tiny ‘Engineers’ Caused First Mass Extinction