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Article: Impact of the Late Triassic mass extinction on functional diversity and composition of marine ecosystems

Palaeontology Cover Image - Volume 61 Part 1
Publication: Palaeontology
Volume: 61
Part: 1
Publication Date: January 2018
Page(s): 133 148
Author(s): Alexander M. Dunhill, William J. Foster, James Sciberras, and Richard J. Twitchett
Addition Information

How to Cite

DUNHILL, A.M., FOSTER, W.J., SCIBERRAS, J., TWITCHETT, R.J. 2018. Impact of the Late Triassic mass extinction on functional diversity and composition of marine ecosystems. Palaeontology, 61, 1, 133-148. DOI: 10.1111/pala.12332

Author Information

  • Alexander M. Dunhill - School of Earth & Environment University of Leeds Leeds UK (Email:
  • William J. Foster - Jackson School of Geosciences University of Texas Austin TX USA
  • James Sciberras - Department of Biology & Biochemistry University of Bath Claverton Down UK
  • Richard J. Twitchett - Department of Earth Sciences Natural History Museum London UK

Publication History

  • Issue published online: 25 December 2017
  • Manuscript Accepted: 15 September 2017
  • Manuscript Received: 23 June 2017

Funded By

Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship. Grant Number: ECF‐2015‐044
NERC research grant. Grant Number: NE/P013724/1
University of Texas at Austin

Online Version Hosted By

Wiley Online Library (Open Access)
Get Article: Wiley Online Library [Open Access]


Mass extinctions have profoundly influenced the history of life, not only through the death of species but also through changes in ecosystem function and structure. Importantly, these events allow us the opportunity to study ecological dynamics under levels of environmental stress for which there are no recent analogues. Here, we examine the impact and selectivity of the Late Triassic mass extinction event on the functional diversity and functional composition of the global marine ecosystem, and test whether post‐extinction communities in the Early Jurassic represent a regime shift away from pre‐extinction communities in the Late Triassic. Our analyses show that, despite severe taxonomic losses, there is no unequivocal loss of global functional diversity associated with the extinction. Even though no functional groups were lost, the extinction event was, however, highly selective against some modes of life, in particular sessile suspension feeders. Although taxa with heavily calcified skeletons suffered higher extinction than other taxa, lightly calcified taxa also appear to have been selected against. The extinction appears to have invigorated the already ongoing faunal turnover associated with the Mesozoic Marine Revolution. The ecological effects of the Late Triassic mass extinction were preferentially felt in the tropical latitudes, especially amongst reefs, and it took until the Middle Jurassic for reef ecosystems to fully recover to pre‐extinction levels.

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