After the “Great Dying”, life on Earth took millions of years to recover. Now, scientists know why.

At the end of the Permian period 252 million years ago, the Earth was devastated by a mass extinction that wiped out more than 90% of species on the planet. Unlike other mass extinctions, the recovery from the “Great Dying” was slow: It took TK millions of years to repopulate the planet and restore its diversity.

Now, scientists might have figured out what delayed Earth’s recovery. A group of tiny marine organisms called radiolarians went extinct after the extinction. Their absence radically changed marine geochemistry, allowing a type of clay formation that released carbon dioxide. This release of carbon dioxide would have kept the atmosphere warm and the oceans acidic, thus slowing the recovery of life, the scientists explained in a paper published Oct. 3 in the journal Geoscience of nature (opens in new tab).

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