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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

what is used to determine phylogeny?
Israel Reply
which condition is the basis for a species to be reproductively isolated from other members?
Israel Reply
Why do scientists consider vestigial structures evidence for evolution?
Israel
8.Which statement about analogies is correct?
Israel
What is true about organisms that are a part of the same clade?
Israel
Why is it so important for scientists to distinguish between homologous and analogous characteristics before building phylogenetic trees?
Israel
(CH2O)n is the stoichiometric formula of
Marcellus Reply
what are nucleotide
Anastijjaninaiya Reply
Methane,ammonia,water and sugar are dissolved to form nuceotide
Me
Introduction To Biology
Tanveer Reply
can ringworm be caused by bacterium
fred Reply
Nope
ejikeme
Branches of biology
Tanveer
no it does not occurs by bacterium
gopal
what is a brick?
Istifanus Reply
what is gene in biology?
yousaf Reply
it is a heredity unit
Me
what is DNA
yousaf Reply
carrier of genetic information
missy
deoxyribonucleic acid
gopal
it contains genetic information and brings it to one generation to other
gopal
it is of two Types circular DNA and linear DNA
gopal
plasmids are the type of small circular DNA which lies outside the genomic DNA
gopal
And what makes a virus to be difficult to destroy
Mosongo
what observation is made when dry seeds and soaked seeds are put in a vacuum flask
Robin Reply
there is respiration from the soak seeds which shows on the walls of the vacuum flask
Israel
what's mammals ?
Istifanus Reply
mammals are vertebrates ,any member group of vertebrates animals in which the young are nourished with milk from special mammary glands of the mother.
yousaf
what are actin and myosin
Praveen Reply
they are muscle filaments
Israel
they make up the microfibrils of the muscle ,relaxing and contracting to cause movement
Israel
Please did anybody know the questions that will come out in the coming practical?
Oladimeji
Why it is importantthat there are different types of protein in plasma membraine for the transport materials into and out of a cell?
Louellie Reply
the nerve cell
Mustapha Reply
differences between Homo sapiens and other primates
Aphiwe Reply
Why is albinism a recessive trait
Bright
Tyrosinase gene are make albinism to recessive trait
vinod
And what are the Tyrosinase genes
Bright

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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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