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The Distribution of Complex Life in the Last 540 Million Years

posted Jun 7, 2011, 12:24 AM by Abel Mendez
Following our previous post for the paleo-distribution of life, here we show two animations of the distribution of complex life in the last 540 million years based on the fossil record, starting from the Cambrian Period to today. This was the period when life became complex and populated the continents (Figure 1). The fossil record is very limited and fragmented both spatially and temporally, but the animations gives a general idea of how life evolved and shifted through space and time.


Figure 1. Timeline of the last 700 million years of Earth.

The animations show the fossil record for ten well known taxa: mammalia, reptilia, dinosauria, insecta, avialae, pisces, amphibia, trilobita, ammonoidea, and plantae. The data came from the Paleobiology Database and it is being used together with the Visible Paleo-Earth in a comparative analysis of terrestrial habitability for those periods. The animations were georeferenced for today coordinates, where the fossils were found (Figure 2), and for the paleo-coordinates, where the taxa was living (Figure 3). Note that many of the fossil occurrence sites overlap and it is always better to see each taxon alone to appreciate its distribution.


Figure 2. These are the locations of fossil sites for 25 geological periods from 540 million years ago to today.


Figure 3. This animation shows the distribution of complex life in the last 540 million years based on the fossil record.