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Animals Caused Mass Extinction 540 Million Years Ago; Are Humans Causing the Next One?

Aug 05, 2016 06:18 AM EDT
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Scientists recently uncovered new fossils that supported the theory that the first animals that caused a mass extinction, according to a report from Phys Org.

The findings revealed that the first animals or metazoans changed the environment so much that the earlier organisms Ediacarans ceased to exist.

Ediacarans were single-celled marine organism that's mostly immobile, ruled and spread all over the world around 600 million years ago. However, when the newly evolved metazoans burst into being 60 million years later, the different species -- modern animals such as sponges, molluscs, vertebrates and more -- altered the habitat drastically and made it impossible for the Ediacarans to survive. It caused what is now known as the end-Ediacaran extinction.

The Ediacaran-Metazoan Relationship

Simon Darroch, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences at Vanderbilt University, was the director of the recent study entitled "A mixed Ediacaran-metazoan assemblage from the Zaris Sub-basin, Namibia." It was published in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology.

Darroch called the emerging species that wiped out the Ediacaran as "ecological engineers." Along with his fellow scientists, he found a well-preserved mixed community of the early life organisms with the metazoans, a strong evidence that there is close ecological relationship among the different species.

"Until this, the evidence for an overlapping ecological association between metazoans and soft-bodied Ediacaran organisms was limited," Darroch explained.

Humans are Changing the Environment

Despite the findings referring to data that is hundreds of millions of years old, Darroch said that it remains relevant in the modern Earth.

"The end-Ediacaran extinction shows that the evolution of new behaviors can fundamentally change the entire planet, and today we humans are the most powerful 'ecosystems engineers' ever known," he pointed out.

Led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the latest "State of the Climate 2015" report showed alarming trends throughout the world. Among the highlights of the past year are the highest greenhouse gases on record, the highest global surface temperature on record, the highest sea surface temperature on record, the highest global sea level on record and the highest global upper ocean heat content on record.

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