Reptile Evolution :
250 million years ago, mother nature decided to wipe her slate clean for the Triassic reptiles that ruled the era.
The big mass extinction paved way for some lucky creatures that survived the global-scale catastrophe to accelerate their rate of evolution and create a whole new ecology.
A recent new study has claimed that the rate of reptile evolution had a direct link with the rate of the planet’s climate change.
This scientific report covers a span of 57 million years of reptile evolution, that’s right, the period before, during, and after the mass extinction that happened at the end of the Permian Period.
The spiking volcanic activity about 252 million years ago emitted supermassive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and oceans killing almost all life (more than 86% of the planet’s species).
However, there were some lucky survivors mainly reptiles that were destined to rule the dawning era.
In fact, their blooming diversity by the rapid evolution (reptile evolution) was mainly credited to the availability of vast real estates (landmass) that was left empty by the disappearance of other species which would otherwise have become the dominating competitors or even superior species over dinosaurs.
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However, rapid reptile evolution was already in motion in the Permian due to the rapid climate fluctuations.
Researchers analyzed the fossils of some 125 reptile species and found a spike in evolutionary diversity throughout the Permian until the next great era of the lizards- the Triassic period. The research report was published in Science Advances.
The researchers stated that the understanding of evolution is diversifying as they dig deeper into the factors that link reptile evolution and climate change.
The research team led by Tiago Simões, an evolutionary paleontologist at Harvard University studied reptile fossils that dated back from 294 million to 237 million years old (i.e more than 1000 specimens at 50 scientific research institutions in over 20 countries).
To under the climate that existed millions of years ago, the team used the present large database of sea surface temperatures collected based on oxygen Isotope data that has information from up to 450 million years ago published in 2021.
By analyzing the morphological changes like the size of the fossilized skeleton, and the shape of the head the team found the rate of reptile evolution was directly linked to the rate of climate change.
However, the rapid rate of evolution of the reptiles was only accelerated several million years after the great mass extinction (i.e in the Triassic era) when the planet’s temperatures were soaring. “Ocean surface temperatures during this time soared to 40-degree celsius, about the temperature of a hot tub,” said Simões in a report.
But some reptile species evolved less rapidly as they were already well prepared for rapidly warming climates. Eg. Smaller reptiles were pre-evolved to survive in warming environments. “Because of their greater surface area to body ratio,” small-bodied reptiles can better exchange heat with their surrounding to be under optimal temperatures than the larger ones.
This study shows the significance of the changing global temperatures on evolution.