Some 250 million years ago, the earth suffered the greatest biological crisis in its history. Around 95 percent of all living species died out—a global catastrophe far greater than the dinosaurs' demise 185 million years later. How this happened remains a mystery. But there are many competing theories. Some blame huge volcanic eruptions that covered an area as large as the continental United States; others argue for sudden changes in ocean levels and chemistry, including burps of methane gas; and still others cite the impact of an extraterrestrial object, similar to what caused the dinosaurs' extinction.
Extinction is a paleontological mystery story. Here, the world's foremost authority on the subject provides a fascinating overview of the evidence for and against a whole host of hypotheses concerning this cataclysmic event that unfolded at the end of the Permian.
After setting the scene, Erwin introduces the suite of possible perpetrators and the types of evidence paleontologists seek. He then unveils the actual evidence--moving from China, where much of the best evidence is found; to a look at extinction in the oceans; to the extraordinary fossil animals of the Karoo Desert of South Africa. Erwin reviews the evidence for each of the hypotheses before presenting his own view of what happened.
Although full recovery took tens of millions of years, this most massive of mass extinctions was a powerful creative force, setting the stage for the development of the world as we know it today.
In a new preface, Douglas Erwin assesses developments in the field since the book's initial publication.
Douglas H. Erwin is senior scientist and curator in the Department of Paleobiology at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. He began researching the end-Permian mass extinction in the early 1980s and has traveled many times to China, South Africa, and Europe seeking its causes.
"Theories and mysteries can be dispelled with good data from the geologic record, and Erwin (a paleobiologist at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History) offers an authoritative account of the search for these data and for the cause of the extinction. . . . Extinction provides a great reference for researchers and the interested lay reader alike."--Andrew M. Bush, Science
"Extinction is a very enjoyable read. . . . It provides a thoroughly up-to-date account of the causes of the end-Permian event and the developments in the field since 1993 as seen through the eyes of one of the key players. . . . Extinction leaves the reader with the (accurate) picture that here is a scientist whose work has significantly advanced our understanding of the greatest extinction event known to science. . . . [A] readable and scholarly account."--Richard J. Twitchett, American Scientist
"Douglas Erwin's geological mystery story is engrossing. It contains a tribute to the scientific method--and also the collaborations of research. The book ends with Erwin warning that the Earth is arguably entering another mass extinction period, this time unnatural and man-made. And this time the destruction may well be total."--Lucy Sussex, The Age (Sunday edition)
"Douglas H. Erwin, a Smithsonian paleobiologist and one of the leading experts on the Permian extinction has meticulously sifted through the evidence. . . . His accessible new book, Extinction--written, it seems, both to persuade his colleagues and to educate a lay audience--is told from the perspective of a forensic scientist trying to piece together a quarter-billion-year-old crime scene."--Joshua Foer, Washington Post Book World
Table of Contents:
Preface to the New Paperback Edition ix
CHAPTER 1: Introduction 1
CHAPTER 2: A Cacophony of Causes 17
CHAPTER 3: South China Interlude 59
CHAPTER 4: It's a Matter of Time 77
CHAPTER 5: Filter Feeding Fails 98
CHAPTER 6: South African Eden 124
CHAPTER 7: The Perils of Permian Seas 161
CHAPTER 8: Denouement 187
CHAPTER 9: Resurrection and Recovery 218
CHAPTER 10: The Paradox of the Permo-Triassic 245