Monday, November 09, 2015

Evidence From Washington Direct Impacts of Volcanic Eruptions Insufficient to Cause Mass Extinctions

Extrinsic forcing of plant ecosystems in a large igneous province: The Columbia River flood basalt province, Washington State, USA


Ebinghaus et al


Volcanism associated with large igneous provinces (LIPs) has been implicated in both global climate and environmental change. To determine the impact of LIP volcanism on plant ecology we have examined plant community succession in sedimentary interbeds of the Columbia River flood basalt province (CRBP; northwest United States). Interbasaltic vegetation is characterized by primary succession communities that inhabit fresh lava surfaces until terminated by the next eruptive event, and it is assumed that longer volcanic hiatuses should lead to more mature plant communities. This expected succession trajectory is contradicted by palynological data that show that seral succession declines during the phase of waning CRPB volcanism and prolonged interbed intervals. Frequent volcanic activity and increased deposition of Snake River Plain hotspot ashes during this phase resulted in ecological disturbance of intralava field vegetation. Together with geochemical proxies from interbed sediments, this suggests that CRBP flora was largely driven by extrinsic forcing, and implies that LIP volcanism of similar scale and magnitude to that of the CRBP had a limited environmental impact. This study supports the theory that past biotic extinctions were triggered by numerous factors rather than a single geological event.

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