Volcanic perturbations of the marine environment in South China preceding the latest Permian mass extinction and their biotic effects

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The Dongpan section in southern Guangxi Province records the influence of local volcanic activity on marine sedimentation at intermediate water depths (~200-500m) in the Nanpanjiang Basin (South China) during the late Permian crisis. We analyzed ~100 samples over a 12-m-thick interval, generating palynological, paleobiological, and geochemical datasets to investigate the nature and causes of environmental changes. The section records at least two major volcanic episodes that culminated in deposition of approximately 25- to 35-cm-thick ash layers (bentonites) and that had profound effects on conditions in both the Dongpan marine environment and adjacent land areas. Intensification of eruptive activity during each volcanic cycle resulted in a shift toward conifer forests, increased wildfire intensity, and elevated subaerial weathering fluxes. The resulting increase in nutrient fluxes stimulated marine productivity in the short term but led to a negative feedback on productivity in the longer term as the OMZ of the Nanpanjiang Basin expanded, putting both phytoplankton and zooplankton communities under severe stress. Radiolarians exhibit large declines in diversity and abundance well before the global mass extinction horizon, demonstrating the diachroneity of the marine biotic crisis. The latest Permian crisis, which was probably triggered by the Siberian Traps flood basalts, intensified the destructive effects of the earlier local eruptions on terrestrial and marine ecosystems of the South China craton. © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

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