Mass extinction or extirpation: Permian biotic turnovers in the northwestern margin of Pangea
Bulletin of the Geological Society of America
The Capitanian (Middle Permian) mass extinction event, prior to and separate from the end-Permian mass extinction, has been suggested as a severe biotic crisis comparable to the big five mass extinctions of the Phanerozoic. However, there is still controversy about its global significance. In particular, this purportedly disastrous event in the Capitanian was mostly documented in the eastern Tethys, especially South China and Japan, whereas its extent in higher latitudinal regions remains unclear. A few recent studies have reported biostratigraphic and chemostratigraphic evidence for the Capitanian extinction at the northwestern marginal shelf of Pangea, including in the Kapp Starostin Formation in Spitsbergen. However, we here report a different result from these previous studies based on a study of abundant brachiopod fossils collected from eight geological sections that represent the same formation in western and central Spitsbergen, Arctic Norway. Our biostratigraphic investigation recognizes a total of five brachiopod assemblages from the type section of the Kapp Starostin Formation at Festningen in Spitsbergen. The most striking biotic change in species composition is observed at the interval between the lowermost Vøringen Member (late Artinskian) and its overlying member (Kungurian) of the Kapp Starostin Formation in Spitsbergen, which makes it much earlier than the Capitanian. A similar faunal shift at the same stratigraphic interval is also observed from bryozoan-based biostratigraphic data. This faunal turnover could be linked to a significant climatic shift (cooling) along the northwestern margin of Pangea during the Artinskian−Kungurian. Specifically, it is inferred that a climatic perturbation (cooling) likely drove the extirpation (emigration) of marine faunas out of Spitsbergen and dispersal eastward into some lower latitudinal and climatically more habitable areas. Our result indicates that the Capitanian interval in Spitsbergen does not record a catastrophic event that corresponds to the Capitanian mass extinction in Tethyan regions but rather marks gradual faunal transitions throughout the Middle to Late Permian. This faunal transition, driven by continuous cooling, was accompanied by major changes in regional lithology, which suggest a degree of local environmental control, especially in the changes of substrate and water depth, on the composition of the benthic faunas. The Wegener Halvø and Schuchert Dal Formations (Lopingian) in central East Greenland contain a diverse brachiopod fauna that is comparable to that of the post-Vøringen Member in Spitsbergen. This implies that the brachiopods in the northwestern marginal shelf of Pangea did not suffer a severe mass extinction in the Capitanian; instead, many of them migrated southward with the development of the Zechstein seaway.
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