Using the power of artificial intelligence (AI), scientists have revealed new insights into the creation and destruction of mass extinction. Contrary to conventional knowledge, their study suggests that larger extinctions are not always a form of “creative destruction” that allows new organisms to radiate and evolve. Instead, it suggests that mass extinction is rarely associated with new species of radiation.
By searching for evidence of species loss in fossil records, paleontologists have previously identified five major extinction events, including some major extinction in the history of our planet. Probably the most well-known is the Cretaceous – Paleogene extinction, aka KT extinction, which wiped out dinosaurs about 65 million years ago.
It is often held that this event effectively created a wasteland and “cleared the slate”, providing fertile ground for re-synthesizing and “irradiating” mammal-like organisms, but in the case of mass extinction. A new study published last week in the journal Nature used AI to search a wide log of fossil records, with millions of entries from nearly two hundred species, and to identify patterns between extinction and radiation events.
Dr. Hoyal Cuthill, the lead study author from the University of Essex in the UK and the Tokyo Institute of Technology, said in a statement, “Some of the most challenging things to understand the history of life are the vast timelines involved and the number of species.” “New machine learning applications can help us visualize this information in human-readable form. This means that we can, so to speak, hold the evolution of half a billion years in the palm of our hand and gain new insights from what we see. “
They concluded that mass extinction and subsequent radiation were not connected as previously thought. Within 5 percent of the most significant periods of disruption, AI detected ‘big five’ mass extinctions, seven more mass extinctions, two mass extinction-radiation events, and 15 mass radiations. Most importantly, it discovers that massive radiation and extinction rarely occurred with each other, dispelling the notion that greater extinction leads to a kind of deep cycle-like species radiation of nature. It appears that larger extinctions are certainly not the engine of evolutionary radiation. Take the Cambrian eruption, for example. It was about a time was41 million years ago when a large group of animals first appeared on the record of the first fossil record and the dawn of a high mobile animal equipped with modern physical features.
This new study found that a handful of other notable explosions of biodiversity, including the Cambrian eruption, usually occurred at a time when they were largely isolated from extinction. Dr. Nicholas Guttenberg, study co-author from the Tokyo Institute of Technology explained, “Ecosystems are dynamic, you don’t need anything to exist to allow something new to appear.”