Washington: The Earth’s first mass extinction event 540 million years ago was caused not by a meteorite impact or volcanic super-eruption but by the rise of early animals that dramatically changed the prehistoric environment, a new study has found, reports PTI. “People have been slow to recognise that biological organisms can also drive mass extinction,” said Simon Darroch, assistant professor at Vanderbilt University in US. “But our comparative study of several communities of Ediacarans, the world’s first multicellular organisms, strongly supports the hypothesis that it was the appearance of complex animals capable of altering their environments, which we define as ‘ecosystem engineers,’ that resulted in the Ediacaran’s disappearance,” Darroch said.
The earliest life on Earth consisted of single-celled microorganisms. They ruled the Earth for more than 3 billion years. Some of these microorganisms evolved to capture the energy in sunlight. The photosynthetic process that they developed produced oxygen as a toxic byproduct. Oxygen was poisonous to most microbes that had evolved in an oxygen-free environment, making it the world’s first pollutant. However, for the microorganisms that developed methods for protecting themselves, oxygen gave them the added energy they needed to adopt multicellular forms.