Fungus Illuminates World's Worst Extinction
In the wake of the world's worst mass extinction 250 million years ago, life on Earth was nearly nonexistent. All across the supercontinent Pangea, once lush forests lay in ruins, the corpses of trees poking like matchsticks into the poisoned air.
In their place fungus ruled the land, according to a new study. It feasted on defunct wood, spreading across the planet in an orgy of decay.
The finding offers evidence against an alternative theory that rampant algae fed off the dead forests and puts to rest an old idea that an asteroid impact may have had a hand in the massive destruction.
"This [fungus] was a disaster species, something that perhaps enjoyed the extinction a little more than it should," Mark Sephton of Imperial College London in the United Kingdom said. "It proliferated all over the globe."
The finding has important implications for the Permian-Triassic extinction, which wiped out a large majority of life on the planet. If the fossils had turned out to be algae, it would've suggested a soggy, swampy world dominated by gradual changes in climate and the environment.
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