PerspectiveMASS EXTINCTION

Deciphering mass extinction triggers

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Science  22 Feb 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6429, pp. 815-816
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw0473

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Summary

Five mass extinction events have punctuated the evolution of life on Earth, each reshaping the biosphere by ending the success of an overwhelming proportion of species and creating ecological space for organisms that later inhabited the planet (1). Knowledge of the cause or causes of these events can inform understanding of how the biosphere responds to dramatic environmental change and can help to validate hypotheses about probable outcomes of anthropogenic changes. The nuanced interplay between the climate and ocean systems and the organisms that depend on them is preserved in the rock record for past mass extinctions. Reports by Sprain et al. (2) and Schoene et al. (3) on pages 866 and 862, respectively, of this issue focus on the cause of what is perhaps the most infamous of these mass extinctions, the K-Pg extinction, which marks the boundary between the Cretaceous and Paleogene periods on the geologic time scale.