<< Chapter < Page Chapter >> Page >

View an animation of what ocean life may have been like during the Cambrian explosion.

Post-cambrian evolution and mass extinctions

The periods that followed the Cambrian during the Paleozoic Era are marked by further animal evolution and the emergence of many new orders, families, and species. As animal phyla continued to diversify, new species adapted to new ecological niches. During the Ordovician period, which followed the Cambrian period, plant life first appeared on land. This change allowed formerly aquatic animal species to invade land, feeding directly on plants or decaying vegetation. Continual changes in temperature and moisture throughout the remainder of the Paleozoic Era due to continental plate movements encouraged the development of new adaptations to terrestrial existence in animals, such as limbed appendages in amphibians and epidermal scales in reptiles.

Changes in the environment often create new niches (living spaces) that contribute to rapid speciation and increased diversity. On the other hand, cataclysmic events, such as volcanic eruptions and meteor strikes that obliterate life, can result in devastating losses of diversity. Such periods of mass extinction    ( [link] ) have occurred repeatedly in the evolutionary record of life, erasing some genetic lines while creating room for others to evolve into the empty niches left behind. The end of the Permian period (and the Paleozoic Era) was marked by the largest mass extinction event in Earth’s history, a loss of roughly 95 percent of the extant species at that time. Some of the dominant phyla in the world’s oceans, such as the trilobites, disappeared completely. On land, the disappearance of some dominant species of Permian reptiles made it possible for a new line of reptiles to emerge, the dinosaurs. The warm and stable climatic conditions of the ensuing Mesozoic Era promoted an explosive diversification of dinosaurs into every conceivable niche in land, air, and water. Plants, too, radiated into new landscapes and empty niches, creating complex communities of producers and consumers, some of which became very large on the abundant food available.

Another mass extinction event occurred at the end of the Cretaceous period, bringing the Mesozoic Era to an end. Skies darkened and temperatures fell as a large meteor impact and tons of volcanic ash blocked incoming sunlight. Plants died, herbivores and carnivores starved, and the mostly cold-blooded dinosaurs ceded their dominance of the landscape to more warm-blooded mammals. In the following Cenozoic Era, mammals radiated into terrestrial and aquatic niches once occupied by dinosaurs, and birds, the warm-blooded offshoots of one line of the ruling reptiles, became aerial specialists. The appearance and dominance of flowering plants in the Cenozoic Era created new niches for insects, as well as for birds and mammals. Changes in animal species diversity during the late Cretaceous and early Cenozoic were also promoted by a dramatic shift in Earth’s geography, as continental plates slid over the crust into their current positions, leaving some animal groups isolated on islands and continents, or separated by mountain ranges or inland seas from other competitors. Early in the Cenozoic, new ecosystems appeared, with the evolution of grasses and coral reefs. Late in the Cenozoic, further extinctions followed by speciation occurred during ice ages that covered high latitudes with ice and then retreated, leaving new open spaces for colonization.

Watch the following video to learn more about the mass extinctions.

The chart shows percent extinction intensity versus time in millions of years before present. Extinction intensity spikes at boundaries between periods, including the end of the Ordovician, late Devonian, end of the Permian, end of the Triassic, and end of the Cretaceous periods.
Mass extinctions have occurred repeatedly over geological time.

Career connection

Paleontologist

Natural history museums contain the fossil casts of extinct animals and information about how these animals evolved, lived, and died. Paleontogists are scientists who study prehistoric life. They use fossils to observe and explain how life evolved on Earth and how species interacted with each other and with the environment. A paleontologist needs to be knowledgeable in biology, ecology, chemistry, geology, and many other scientific disciplines. A paleontologist’s work may involve field studies: searching for and studying fossils. In addition to digging for and finding fossils, paleontologists also prepare fossils for further study and analysis. Although dinosaurs are probably the first animals that come to mind when thinking about paleontology, paleontologists study everything from plant life, fungi, and fish to sea animals and birds.

An undergraduate degree in earth science or biology is a good place to start toward the career path of becoming a paleontologist. Most often, a graduate degree is necessary. Additionally, work experience in a museum or in a paleontology lab is useful.

Section summary

The most rapid diversification and evolution of animal species in all of history occurred during the Cambrian period of the Paleozoic Era, a phenomenon known as the Cambrian explosion. Until recently, scientists believed that there were only very few tiny and simplistic animal species in existence before this period. However, recent fossil discoveries have revealed that additional, larger, and more complex animals existed during the Ediacaran period, and even possibly earlier, during the Cryogenian period. Still, the Cambrian period undoubtedly witnessed the emergence of the majority of animal phyla that we know today, although many questions remain unresolved about this historical phenomenon.

The remainder of the Paleozoic Era is marked by the growing appearance of new classes, families, and species, and the early colonization of land by certain marine animals. The evolutionary history of animals is also marked by numerous major extinction events, each of which wiped out a majority of extant species. Some species of most animal phyla survived these extinctions, allowing the phyla to persist and continue to evolve into species that we see today.

Questions & Answers

why are you insulting us my niggar?
Emmanuelfray Reply
what is deglutition
Nalumansi Reply
what is biology
Sierrah Reply
biology is a type of science that studies living things
xjuicy_editzz
viruses are composed of what
Daniel Reply
what are some disease caused by virus
Daniel
what are some disease caused by virus
Daniel
what are some disease caused by virus
Daniel
Ebola
Alhassan
Ebola,rabies,polio,hepatitis and small pox
Magoba
Corona (viral disease)
Musoke
viruses kinda in a sense not "living" what mean that a virus molecule that attaches to living organisms cells to destroy/kill them. so to answer your question they are composed/made up of molecules (please note that I am not 100% sure, please feel free to correct me :] )
xjuicy_editzz
what is the use of biology
Tarkaa Reply
To widen our reasoning abilities about the past and the present events in biology and life at large
Musoke
To understand our biography
Musoke
to study living things
Narh
Among all these which one is the major difference between platyhelminthes and coelenterates? 1. are multicellular 2. have developed a mesoderm 3. reproduce sexually 4. reproduce asexually
Habeeb Reply
what is evolution?
Emmanuelfray Reply
how can you define biology in terms of a burning fire in the bush?
Emmanuelfray
what is a cell
Kagelelo Reply
cell is a functional and unit of life
Sarita
it is the building block n basic unit of life
Narh
describe the process of testing the presence of starch in a leaf
Estel Reply
give me somes of examples.
Manu Reply
give example of what.
Ante
example of what
Elizabeth
what are chromosomes?
Ante
what is Biology
Darkoa
Biology is the study of animals and plants on their characters and death
Okol
No biology is the study of life (living thing's)
Achibiri
Chromosomes refers to one of the small parts like threads in the NUCLEI (central part )of plants and animals cell that carry the GENES
Estel
Yeah okol....Bio-means life and -logy means study/knowledge
Estel
Ecology is the study of
Abdul Reply
Ecology is the study of the interaction of organism in each other and their environment.
Ante
Ecology is the study of the interaction of organism in each other and their environment
Everlove
oh yes!!! exactly
Great
thank much
Ante
what is biome?
Ante
a geographical area with dinstic species
Francis
thanks much it very helpful
Ante
my pleasure
Francis
characteristics of living things
Jane Reply
excretion, movement, sensitivity, reproduction,growth, respiration,nutrition
Estel
what are there function
Ante
what are their function
Ante
what is the two type of reproduction?
Ante
sexual reproduction and asexual reproduction
Abdul
what are their function
Manu
Hi
Olufunmilokun
What is light independent reaction
Benjamin Reply
correct word or phrase. ______A____ uses carbon dioxide and _____B______ to make sugar during______C______. _____D______ traps light energy during this process. *
Andrea Reply
A_plant ,B_water,C_photosynthesis,D_chlorophyll
Abdul
Plant,sunlight,photosynthesis
Olufunmilokun
by which of the following feature c3 and c4 plant similar A .enzyme used to fix carbon dioxide B.cell where calvin cycle takes place C.cell where carbon dioxide fixation takes place
Kaleab Reply
correct word or phrase. ______A____ uses carbon dioxide and _____B______ to make sugar during______C______. _____D______ traps light energy during this process. *
Andrea

Get Jobilize Job Search Mobile App in your pocket Now!

Get it on Google Play Download on the App Store Now




Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
Google Play and the Google Play logo are trademarks of Google Inc.

Notification Switch

Would you like to follow the 'Biology' conversation and receive update notifications?

Ask