It was an extinction event unlike any other. Referred to as the “Great Dying,” the Pemian-Triassic extinction resulted in more than half of the living things on the Earth dying out. Between 90 and 96 percent of the planet’s marine species met their end, and around 75 percent of land dwellers were wiped out. Unstable conditions persisted for 5 million years following the event.
Published in Scientific Reports, an international team of researchers believes they have discovered why some ancient mammal relatives survived the Great Dying. The secret: shorter lifespans.
Before the event, “the therapsid Lystrosaurus had a life span of about 13 or 14 years based on the record of growth preserved in their bones,” said paleontologist and study author Ken Angielczyk, of The Field Museum, in a statement. “Yet, nearly all of the Lystrosaurus specimens we find from after the extinction are only 2-3 years old. This implies that they must have been breeding when they were still juveniles themselves.”
The researchers used bone microstructure and body size data to investigate the changes in survival strategies. Prior to the extinction event, Lystrosaurus reached a couple meters in length, and weighed hundreds of pounds. Following the event, they decreased from pygmy hippo size to about the size of a large dog, attributable to the shorter lifespan, according to The Field Museum.
Through ecological simulations, the researchers found that by breeding younger, Lystrosaurus may have increased its chances of survival by 40 percent.
“With the world currently facing its sixth mass extinction, paleontological research helps us understand the world around us today,” Angielczyk said in his statement. “By studying how animals like Lystrosaurus adapted in the face of disaster, we can better predict how looming environmental changes may affect modern species.”
Extant species have employed similar tactics to maintain their survival. According to Science Magazine, the average adult size of an Atlantic cod has decreased 20 percent in the last three decades. Researchers attributed the decrease in size to overfishing.
R&D 100 AWARD ENTRIES NOW OPEN:
Establish your company as a technology leader! For more than 50 years, the R&D 100 Awards have showcased new products of technological significance. You can join this exclusive community! Learn more.