The world’s largest mass extinction triggered the switch to warmblood –...

The world’s largest mass extinction triggered the switch to warmblood –...
The world’s largest mass extinction triggered the switch to warmblood –...

Mammals and birds are warm blooded today, and this is often seen as the reason for their great success.

Bristol University paleontologist Professor Mike Benton identifies himself in the journal Gondwana research that the ancestors of mammals and birds became warm-blooded about 250 million years ago at the same time as life was recovering from the greatest mass extinction of all time.

The Permian Triassic mass extinction killed up to 95 percent of life, and the few survivors faced a turbulent world repeatedly plagued by global warming and the ocean acidification crisis. Two main groups of tetrapods survived, the synapsids and archosaurs, including the ancestors of mammals and birds, respectively.

Paleontologists had found evidence of warm bloodedness or technical endothermia in these Triassic survivors, including evidence of a diaphragm and possible whiskers in the synapses.

More recently, similar evidence of the early formation of feathers in ancestors of dinosaurs and birds has been unearthed. Both in synapses and archosaurs of the Triassic period, the bone structure shows characteristics of warm blood. Evidence that mammalian ancestors had hair since the beginning of the Triassic has long been suspected, but the suggestion that archosaurs had feathers from 250 million years ago is new.

Strong evidence of this sudden origin of warm blood in both synapses and archosaurs at precisely the time of extinction of the Permian-Triassic mass was found in 2009. Tai Kubo, then a student of paleobiology in Bristol and Professor Benton, found that all medium and large tetrapods switched from spreading to upright posture right on the Permian-Triassic border.

Their study was based on fossilized footprints. They looked at a sample of hundreds of fossil traces, and Kubo and Benton were surprised to see that the shift in posture happened instantly rather than strung for tens of millions of years as suggested. It also happened in all groups, not just in the mammalian or avian ancestors.

Professor Benton said: “Modern amphibians and reptiles are spreaders that hold their limbs partially to the side.

“Birds and mammals have an upright posture with their limbs just below their bodies. This allows them to run faster and, in particular, further. There are great benefits to being upright and being warm-blooded, but the cost is that endotherms have to eat a lot more than cold-blooded animals just to encourage their internal temperature control. ”

Evidence of postural changes and early hair and feather emergence, all occurring at the same time, suggested that this was the beginning of some sort of “arms race.” In ecology, arms races occur when predators and prey have to compete with one another and when adaptations can escalate. The lion evolves to run faster, but the wildebeest also evolves to run faster or twist and turn to escape.

Something like this happened in the Triassic 250 to 200 million years ago. Warm-blooded animals can now live in cold areas all over the world and remain active at night. They also show intense parental care, feed their babies, and teach them complex and smart behaviors. These adaptations gave birds and mammals the advantage over amphibians and reptiles and enabled them to dominate more parts of the world in the current cool world.

Professor Benton added, “The Triassic was a remarkable time in the history of life on earth. You can see birds and mammals everywhere on land today, while amphibians and reptiles are often quite hidden.

“This revolution in ecosystems was triggered by the independent origins of endothermics in birds and mammals, but until recently we did not realize that these two events might have been coordinated.

“It happened because only a tiny number of species survived the extinction of the Permian-Triassic mass – what survived depended on intense competition in a harsh world. Because some of the survivors were already primitively endothermic, everyone else had to become endothermic in order to survive in the new fast-paced world. ”

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