Fungal abundance spike and the Permian-Triassic boundary in the Karoo Supergroup (South Africa)

Maureen B. Steiner, Yoram Eshet, Michael R. Rampino, Dylan M. Schwindt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The most severe mass extinction of marine species and terrestrial vertebrates and plants is associated with the Permian-Triassic boundary (∼ 251 Ma). The extinction interval is also marked by the disappearance of most Late Permian gymnosperm palynomorphs at a layer containing solely the abundant remains of fungi. This 'fungal spike' apparently represents widespread devastation of arboreous vegetation. Stratigraphic and palynological study of the Carlton Heights section in the southern Karoo Basin of South Africa revealed a 1-m-thick fungal spike zone that occurs simultaneously with the last appearance of typically Late Permian gymnosperm pollen. The plant extinction and fungal spike zone are found above the last occurrence of Late Permian mammal-like reptiles of the Dicynodont Zone at other Karoo sections. Using the fungal event as a time line in marine and non-marine sections allows placement of the marine extinctions and the extinction of terrestrial plants and reptiles within a brief crisis interval of less than about 40000 years at the end of the Permian.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)405-414
Number of pages10
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 25 May 2003
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank John Hancox, Isabel Montanez, and Neil Tabor for help in the field, Robert C. Reynolds at Dartmouth College for X-ray diffraction mineral analyses, Henk Brinkhuis, Roger M.H. Smith and Peter D. Ward for helpful discussions and information, and Simonetta Cirilli and Evelyn Krull for critical reviews. M.R.R. was supported in part by a New York University Research Challenge Grant. We are grateful to the B.P. Erasmus and G. Van Zyl families for permissions and assistance in the Karoo.


  • Extinction
  • Fungal spike
  • Permian-Triassic boundary
  • South Africa
  • Vertebrates


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