Wildfire has been implicated as a potential driver of deforestation and continental biodiversity loss during the end-Permian extinction event (EPE; ∼ 252 Ma). However, it cannot be established whether wildfire activity was anomalous during the EPE without valid pre- and post-EPE baselines. Here, we assess the changes in wildfire activity in the high-latitude lowlands of eastern Gondwana by presenting new long-term, quantitative late Permian (Lopingian) to Early Triassic records of dispersed fossil charcoal and inertinite from sediments of the Sydney Basin, eastern Australia. We also document little-transported fossil charcoal occurrences in middle to late Permian (Guadalupian to Lopingian) permineralized peats of the Lambert Graben, East Antarctica, and Sydney and Bowen basins, eastern Australia, indicating that even vegetation of consistently moist high-latitude settings was prone to regular fire events. Our records show that wildfires were consistently prevalent through the Lopingian, but the EPE demonstrates a clear spike in activity. The relatively low charcoal and inertinite baseline for the Early Triassic is likely due in part to the lower vegetation density, which would have limited fire spread. We review the evidence for middle Permian to Lower Triassic charcoal in the geosphere, and the impacts of wildfires on sedimentation processes and the evolution of landscapes. Moreover, we assess the evidence of continental extinction drivers during the EPE within eastern Australia, and critically evaluate the role of wildfires as a cause and consequence of ecosystem collapse. The initial intensification of the fire regime during the EPE likely played a role in the initial loss of wetland carbon sinks, and contributed to increased greenhouse gas emissions and land and freshwater ecosystem changes. However, we conclude that elevated wildfire frequency was a short-lived phenomenon; recurrent wildfire events were unlikely to be the direct cause of the subsequent long-term absence of peat-forming wetland vegetation, and the associated ‘coal gap' of the Early Triassic.

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