“Where Did Everybody Go?” would have been a perfect headline for the Triassic Times newspaper. But even a journalist would find it difficult to accurately describe the conditions after the Permian Extinction for it is difficult to comprehend the true impact made by this mass extinction and the profound emptiness left behind. Just imagine walking out your front door, and to your amazement, only a small percentage of living organisms are still around. Most of the plants, insects, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and sea-going creatures, from the gigantic to the miniscule, are gone. Imagine the devastation. Imagine the silence, the emptiness. This was the Early Triassic.
The Triassic is a time of tremendous and phenomenal change. The major reason for the spectacular innovation of body plans is due to the Triassic falling upon the heels of the great Permian Extinction when as much as 95% of life on Earth was destroyed in a mass extinction event of vast proportions. What makes the Triassic so very interesting is it provides insight into how Life was able to rebound and adapt to the new and difficult environment that dominated most of the Triassic Period.
The oxygen levels climbed to phenomenal heights in the Carboniferous only to plunge precipitously at the end of the Permian during the greatest mass extinction on record. The Permian Extinction brought chaos, and for many forms of Life, death became the only option. The total elimination of numerous species, whether on land or sea, resulted in a world left in ruin and nearly lifeless.
The Permian Mass Extinction didn’t happen overnight, and it therefore follows
reason that the circumstances which brought about the Extinction didn’t suddenly
end with the dawn of the Triassic. Unfortunately for the survivors, the
situation remained dire long into the Triassic period with low oxygen, high carbon
dioxide and suffocating heat. A good indicator of the brutality of the
environment can be found in the fossil record. The rock strata from the Early
Triassic contain very few fossils as Life struggled to regain its footing – a
process that would require from five to seven million years for signs
of recovery to appear.
Despite the terrible destruction and lingering conditions, Life did indeed struggle on during this period, eventually producing the early forms of some of the most magnificent and amazing creatures that ever lived on this planet: the dinosaurs.
During the first half of the Triassic, oxygen levels would improve, while carbon dioxide levels fell, cooling the planet. At the same time, climatic conditions improved opening up more habitats for the growing population of animals. Yet for all this success and innovation, the Triassic Period, like the Permian, ended in a mass extinction where only the most adaptable creatures would survive.