Scientists Claim 60 Million Years Of Global Warming Pushed Reptile Evolution

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Reconstruction artistically depicts the adaptive radiation of reptiles that occurred in a terrestrial environment throughout the hottest time in the history of the planet. The image depicts an enormous, predatory erythrosuchid and a small, flying reptile that lived approximately 240 million years ago. In a hot and arid river valley, an erythrosuchid is pursuing a gliding reptile while propelling itself using the fossilized skull of an extinct dimetrodon, which is an early mammalian progenitor. Image courtesy of Henry Sharpe, who made it.

According to a study conducted at Harvard University, the rapid evolution of reptiles was brought on by approximately 60 million years of global warming and climatic change.

Researchers are able to investigate the effects that environmental disasters have had on the evolution of organisms by researching the mass extinctions that were caused by climate change in the distant past. The climate changes that occurred during the Permian and Triassic periods are a prime example. The worldwide warming that took place between the Middle Permian and the Middle Triassic period was the driving force behind this series of climatic alterations. At the end of the Permian period, these changes in climate were responsible for two of the largest extinction events in the history of life. The first of these occurred 261 million years ago, and the other occurred 252 million years ago, when it was responsible for the eradication of 86% of all animal species across the globe.

In addition to their magnitude, the mass extinctions that occurred at the end of the Permian period are significant for another reason: they mark the beginning of a new era in the history of the planet, one in which reptiles rose to prominence as the preeminent group of vertebrate animals that lived on land. During the entirety of the Permian period, the terrestrial vertebrate faunas were dominated by synapsids, which are considered to be the ancestors of mammals. Following the mass extinctions that occurred during the Permian Period (between 252 and 200 million years ago), reptile evolution sped up during the Triassic Period (between 252 and 200 million years ago), leading to an unprecedented increase in the variety of reptile species. This growth was essential to the formation of modern ecosystems as well as those ecosystems that have since become extinct. The majority of paleontologists believed that the rapid rates of evolution and diversification were due to the extinction of competitors. This allowed reptiles to take over new habitats and food resources that several synapsid groups had dominated prior to their extinction. This allowed reptiles to evolve at a much faster rate.

New study

Researchers from the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, along with their collaborators, have revealed in a new study that was published on August 19, 2022 in the journal Sciences Advances that the rapid evolution and radiation of reptiles began much earlier, before the end of the Permian period. This was in relation to the slowly rising global temperatures via a lengthy series of climatic shifts that extended almost 60 million years in the geological record. The changes occurred over the course of almost 60 million years.

A dataset was compiled by the researchers based on intensive first-hand data gathering of more than 1,000 fossil samples from 125 types of reptiles, synapsids, including other closest relatives that lived around 140 million years before and after the Permian-Triassic extinction. The fossil specimens were found throughout the time period before and after the Permian-Triassic extinction. Bayesian evolutionary analysis  was one of the cutting-edge analytical techniques that they used to determine whenever these species first originally came and how quickly they were evolving after that. After that, they analyzed the data to determine when they first originated. The researchers then integrated the new information with data on global temperature that was found in the geological record and spanned several million years. This allowed them to present a comprehensive summary of the creatures’ primary adaptive reaction toward changes in the climate.

The findings indicate that times of rapid climatic transitions and global warming are associated with extraordinarily high rates of morphological change in most species of reptiles as they acclimated to new environmental conditions. [Citation needed] [Citation needed] This process started at least 270 million years before the Permian-Triassic extinction, which indicates that the diversification of reptile body designs was not sparked by the P-T extinction event as was originally understood, but instead began tens of million years before that.