Abstract

We present new evidence for a major inflection point in the history of tetrapods on land, a jump in the diversification of archosauromorphs, primarily dinosaurs, at 232–230 Ma. This corresponds to a long-noted changeover in Triassic terrestrial tetrapod faunas from those dominated by synapsids, many of them holdovers from the Permian, to those dominated by dinosaurs. The dinosaur explosion is shown here to correspond in timing to the Carnian Pluvial Episode (CPE), dated at 232 Ma, a time of increased rainfall and perturbation of oceans and atmospheres, followed by substantial aridification. The rock record through the CPE confirms that this event shared many characters with other mass extinctions driven by eruption of large igneous provinces, in this case the Wrangellia flood basalts of the west coast of North America. If this was a catastrophic extinction event, then the environmental perturbations of the CPE explain the sharp disappearance of various terrestrial tetrapods, and the subsequent sharp rise of dinosaurs and perhaps other clades too, especially those that constitute much of the modern terrestrial faunas, such as lissamphibians, turtles, crocodiles, lizards and mammals.

Supplementary material: The sampled tetrapod faunas, geological ages, and details of the R code method and results are available at https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.4111439

Scientific editing by Nereo Preto

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/)