Patterns in Palaeontology: Who’s there and who’s missing?
by Simon Darroch*1 Introduction: Sitting in the sweltering heat of southern Japan, I’m faced with a conundrum. The limestone cliff in front of me preserves the boundary between the Permian and Triassic periods, a point in time around 250 million years ago that witnessed the greatest mass extinction of the Phanerozoic eon. I’m collecting rock and fossil samples from around this boundary to study how the make-up of fossil communities changed in response to this extinction event: this is palaeoecology. The boundary itself couldn’t be easier to spot — the lower (and older) part of the cliff is composed of a pale white-yellow limestone packed full of fossils of shelled marine invertebrates including brachiopods, bivalves and gastropods, as well as microscopic sea-floor-dwelling (benthic) crea