No, says paleontologist and evolutionary biologist Steven Stanley of the University of Hawaii, arguing that the extinction rate was closer to 81% than 96%.
The Permian-Triassic mass extinction lasted for approximately 60,000 years, and was undoubtedly a tough time for the creatures that lived back then—prior research has suggested that there was an unusually large amount of volcanic activity and also possibly multiple large asteroid impacts, which together caused the planet to warm, and also resulted in an increase in ocean acidification—the conditions were so harsh that many species on land and in the sea went extinct. But, Stanley argues, it was not bad enough to wipe out most marine life entirely, as some have suggested. He points out that most extinction estimates for the period fail to include background extinctions, which are extinctions that occur between mass extinctions—they tend to occur as a species runs up against a situation it cannot overcome, such as a new predator, a change in water supply, etc.
Stanley studied the numbers of species that went extinct between known mass extinction events and found a correlation with their numbers and the length of time that passed—the longer the period, the more background extinctions. He then applied the same logic to the time span prior to the Permian-Triassic mass extinction and found that many of the species believed to have gone extinct during the great dying would have actually died out, statistically speaking, before it occurred or would have died during the event anyway. Subtracting those species from the numbers believed to have disappeared brought the percentage down to 81 percent—which Stanley notes is still substantial; it was just not as calamitous as thought. He further suggests that 90 orders and 220 families of marine life survived the mass extinction event and that the factors leading to the extinctions were much more difficult to overcome for some orders and classes than others, which meant that there were disproportionate numbers of losses. Some likely were never close to extinction, he suggests. More.
We really don’t know very much about extinction.
See also: First mass extinction engineered by animals?
Is the Sixth Great Extinction a great myth?
But are human groups “extinct” if their genes live on in us?
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The tradfitional view: