Complete biotic and sedimentary records of the Permian-Triassic transition from Meishan section, South China: Ecologically assessing mass extinction and its aftermath

Zhong Qiang Chen*, Hao Yang, Mao Luo, Michael J. Benton, Kunio Kaiho, Laishi Zhao, Yuangeng Huang, Kexing Zhang, Yuheng Fang, Haishui Jiang, Huan Qiu, Yang Li, Chengyi Tu, Lei Shi, Lei Zhang, Xueqian Feng, Long Chen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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The Meishan section, South China is the Global Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP) for the Permian-Triassic boundary (PTB), and is also well known for the best record demonstrating the Permian-Triassic mass extinction (PTME) all over the world. This section has also been studied using multidisciplinary approaches to reveal the possible causes for the greatest Phanerozoic biocrisis of life on Earth; many important scenarios interpreting the great dying have been proposed on the basis of data from Meishan. Nevertheless, debates on biotic extinction patterns and possible killers still continue. This paper reviews all fossil and sedimentary records from the Permo-Triassic (P-Tr) transition, based on previously published data and our newly obtained data from Meishan, and assesses ecologically the PTME and its aftermath to determine the biotic response to climatic and environmental extremes associated with the biocrisis. Eight updated conodont zones: Clarkina yini, Clarkina meishanensis, Hindeodus changxingensis, Clarkina taylorae, Hindeodus parvus, Isarcicella staeschei, Isarcicella isarcica, and Clarkina planata zones are proposed for the PTB beds at Meishan. Major turnover in fossil fragment contents and ichnodiversity occurs across the boundary between Bed 24e-5 and Bed 24e-6, suggesting an extinction horizon in a thin stratigraphic interval. The irregular surface in the middle of Bed 27 is re-interpreted as a firmground of Glossifungites ichnofacies rather than the previously proposed submarine dissolution surface or hardground surface. Both fossil fragment contents and ichnodiversity underwent dramatic declines in Beds 25-26a, coinciding with metazoan mass extinction. Fossil fragment content, ichnodiversity and all ichnofabric proxies (including burrow size, tiering level, bioturbation level) indicate that the P-Tr ecologic crisis comprises two discrete stages, coinciding with the first and second phases of the PTME in Meishan. Ecologic crisis lagged behind biodiversity decline during the PTME. Pyrite framboid size variations suggest that depositional redox condition was anoxic to euxinic in the latest Changhsingian, became euxinic in Beds 25-26a, turned dysoxic in Bed 27, then varied from euxinic to anoxic through most of the Griesbachian. The ~9°C increase in seawater surface temperature from Bed 24e to Bed 27 at Meishan seems to result in dramatic declines in biodiversity and fossil fragment contents in Beds 25-26a, but had little effect on all ecologic proxies. Both metazoans and infauna seem not to have been affected by the pre-extinction anoxic-euxinic condition. The anoxic event associated with the PTME may have occurred in a much shorter period than previously thought and is only recorded in Beds 25-26a at Meishan. Fossil fragment contents, ichnofaunas, ichnofabrics and pyrite framboid size all show that no signs of oceanic acidification and anoxia existed in Bed 27. The early Griesbachian anoxia may have resulted in rarity of ichnofauna and metazoans in the lower Yinkeng Formation, in which the ichnofauna is characterized by small, simple horizontal burrows of Planolites, and metazoan faunas are characterized by low diversity, high abundance, opportunist-dominated communities. The rapid increase of ~9°C in sea-surface temperature and a short anoxia or acidification coincided with the first-pulse biocrisis, while a prolonged and widespread anoxia probably due to a long period of high seawater temperate condition may be crucial in mortality of most organisms in the second-pulse PTME. Marine ecosystems started to recover, coupled with environmental amelioration, in the late Griesbachian.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-107
Number of pages41
JournalEarth-Science Reviews
Early online date25 Oct 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2015


  • Fossil fragment
  • Mass extinction
  • Meishan section
  • Permian-Triassic
  • Redox condition
  • Trace fossils


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