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Life crises on land across the Permian–Triassic boundary in South China

journal contribution
posted on 2009-02-01, 00:00 authored by Yuanqiao Peng, Guang ShiGuang Shi
The western Guizhou and eastern Yunnan area of southwest China commands a unique and significant position globally in the study of Permian–Triassic boundary (PTB) events as it contains well and continuously exposed PTB sections of marine, non-marine and marginal-marine origin in the same area. By using a range of high-resolution stratigraphic methods including biostratigraphy, eventostratigraphy, chronostratigraphy and chemostratigraphy, not only are the non-marine PTB sections correlated with their marine counterparts in the study area with high-resolution, the non-marine PTB sections of the study area can also be aligned with the PTB Global Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP) at Meishan in eastern China. Plant megafossils (“megaplants”) in the study area indicate a major loss in abundance and diversity across the PTB, and no coal beds and/or seams have been found in the non-marine Lower Triassic although they are very common in the non-marine Upper Permian. The megaplants, however, did not disappear consistently across the whole area, with some elements of the Late Permian Cathaysian Gigantopteris flora surviving the PTB mass extinction and locally even extending up to the Lower Triassic. Palynomorphs exhibit a similar temporal pattern characterized by a protracted stepwise decrease from fern-dominated spores in the Late Permian to pteridosperm and gymnosperm-dominated pollen in the Early Triassic, which was however punctuated by an accelerated loss in both abundance and diversity across the PTB. Contemporaneous with the PTB crisis in the study area was the peculiar prevalence and dominance of some fungi and/or algae species.

The temporal patterns of megaplants and palynomorphs across the PTB in the study area are consistent with the regional trends of plant changes in South China, which also show a long-term decrease in species diversity from the Late Permian Wuchiapingian through the Changhsingian to the earliest Triassic, with about 48% and 77% losses of species occurring respectively in the end-Wuchiapingian and end-Changhsingian. Such consistent patterns, at both local and regional scales, contradict the hypothesis of a regional isochronous extinction of vegetation across the PTB, and hence call into question the notion that the end-Permian mass extinction was a one-hit disaster. Instead, the data from the study area and South China appears more consistent with a scenario that invokes climate change as the main driver for the observed land vegetation changes across the PTB in South China.



Global and planetary change




3 - 4


155 - 165


Elsevier B.V.


Amsterdam, Netherlands







Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2008, Elsevier B.V.