High Northern latitude ecosystem dynamics of the Permian and through the Permian-Triassic mass extinction

Theme: Past Life & Environments

Primary Supervisor:

Stephen Stukins

Earth Sciences Department, NHM

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Secondary Supervisor:

Julia Koricheva

School of Biological Sciences, RHUL

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Project Description:

The extinction event in the latest Permian was the largest such event of the Phanerozoic. It is associated with evidence for substantial global warming. Most studies have focussed on understanding faunal and palaeoenvironmental changes within the marine realm, from local to global scales. Less attention is paid to the impact on terrestrial floras. Despite the widespread use of plant microfossils for biostratigraphy and correlation, the Permian-Triassic plant fossil record is so poorly understood that there is still considerable uncertainty concerning the magnitude of the global floral extinction (Nowak et al., 2019). Plants have played a key role in weathering, run-off and the supply of nutrients to shelf seas since at least the Devonian (Morris et al., 2015), and there is a high degree of connectivity between shallow marine ecosystems and adjacent terrestrial ecosystems. Understanding how local floras changed in response to Permian-Triassic warming is central to understanding and interpreting ecosystem-scale changes on land and in adjacent shallow shelf seas through this critical event in Earth history, yet few studies have attempted to do this (Looy et al., 2001).
This project aims to understand how terrestrial ecosystem dynamics evolved through the Permian-Triassic transition and what impact the event had on the flora in high latitudes. This will be achieved by analysis of the plant microfossil record from selected sites, using a range of material, integrating these results with palaeoenvironmental proxy and marine macrofaunal data from the same samples. The successful candidate will be trained in palynology, stratigraphy, palaeoenvironmental analysis and palaeoecology.

Policy Impact of Research:

Plant ecosystems are integral to global process, such as sediment/nutrient run-off into the oceans and are affected by climatic changes. Understanding responses of plants during the greatest challenge in the history of life will help understand how we should expect ecosystems to respond to the current, anthropogenic, climate event.

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