Long ago, I asked a question on what would create an inverse Great Dying. Allow me to clarify on what I meant:

252 million years ago, the worst event in the history of life on Earth occurred. 70% of all terrestrial species and 96% of all marine species became extinct through, according to geological records, a combination of events--flood basalt eruptions in Siberia, runaway greenhouse effect caused by the melting of methane ice, even the formation of the supercontinent Pangaea itself.

So an "inverse" Great Dying refers to an event in which 96% of all terrestrial species and only 70% of all marine species became extinct. The best answer I got was a gamma ray burst from a nearby supernova (some tens of light years away.)

So imagine the planet Earth 252 million years ago. All the continents were clumped together as one singular landmass, Pangaea. Climate gradients from equator to poles were modest. And then, instead of a series of lava eruptions in Russia, life was hit hard by a gamma ray burst from the supernova of a nearby star. The ozone layer had been cut down to less than one percent of its original thickness. Exposed to solar radiation, 96% of all terrestrial species died out.

Based on what we know of Late Permian terrestrial flora and fauna, who would account for the surviving four percent?

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    $\begingroup$ Erm, "the species who could adapt best to survive those conditions" would be the answer. What are you looking for? Since there are millions of species, do you wish for a list of the 50 or so thousand that might survive? What sort of answer are you expecting? Ps. science-based and hard-science tags are pretty much mutually exclusive. $\endgroup$ May 29, 2021 at 0:35
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    $\begingroup$ I think the question may be impossible to answer with the hard-science tag due to there being likely zero academic research on a hypothetical "inverse great dying". $\endgroup$
    – BMF
    May 29, 2021 at 1:13
  • $\begingroup$ Probably animals that can resist fairly high levels of radiation, like some arthropods. Do you mean that you want a list of animals? Because such questions are usually a bit too broad to be answered. $\endgroup$ May 29, 2021 at 1:45
  • $\begingroup$ First they have to survive. There were mammals who branched out to fill the herbivore and carnivore niches, but all mammals that survived the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event were omnivores, insectivores, or carrion eaters. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    May 29, 2021 at 2:01
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    $\begingroup$ I could have phrased it differently, the science-based tag is a subset of the hard-science tag,, the latter make the former redundant. IE. it's not useful to have both tags, but not everyone's studied set theory or understands the expression the same way. @Otkin $\endgroup$ May 29, 2021 at 3:56

1 Answer 1


Burrowing detritivores.

Fossil Worm Burrows Reveal Very Early Terrestrial Animal Activity and Shed Light on Trophic Resources after the End-Cretaceous Mass Extinction

After the Cretaceous mass extinction, worm burrows were some of the first fossil traces to appear.

Survivors of the end Cretaceous extinction event were able to withstand both short- and longer-term repercussions of the bolide impact and ongoing Deccan vulcanism. Global thermal radiation caused by re-entry of asteroid impact ejecta apparently presented an immediate and potentially deadly, short-term consequence of the impact [8]. Robertson et al. [46] suggest that this intense pulse of infrared radiation would have killed exposed organisms, and infer that survivors were protected within burrows, natural cavities, or bodies of water. Earthworms not only live in the soil, but are also capable of employing several mechanisms that allow them to withstand unfavorable environmental conditions: their protective egg-bearing cocoons can remain unhatched until conditions improve, and the worms can enter a state of quiescence or diapause, or can burrow deeply to avoid adverse conditions near the sediment surface [43]... Sheehan et al. [48] suggested that detritivores would have thrived on existing stores of dead and decomposing carbon resources despite decreases in primary production.

Worms are protected from radiation, and a postapocalyptic world is full of worm food. Organisms sharing earthworm habitat could also survive - land crustaceans (isopods), other worm types like nematodes, and the ancient springtails. Microscopic soil animal also inhabit this soil sanctuary - mites, tardigrades and rotifers.

From comments: /what about plants?/

I did not realize that the extinction event counted plants among species going extinct. I think that for extinction events in our timeline plants did a lot better than animals - example: No mass extinction for land plants at the Permian–Triassic transition

Killing all the plants is harder. A gamma ray burst that let anything live would spare some seeds and plants would bounce back to a world without herbivores and they would thrive. Let us assume the plan extinction is from higher incident UV. Plants that need full sun would die with the full UV. Survivors would be those that are ok in low light because shady niches would be shaded from UV as well. Given that some of the most ancient plant lineages are low light specialists today in our timeline (mosses, ferns) I would guess that the low light adapted ancestors in these lineages would be the survivors in a bright UV world. So those ancients get their world back. Exposed areas will be claimed by lichens which I suspect (but do not know) must have some sort of super UV durability given their unique ability to tolerate exposed areas at high altitudes.

The high UV circumstances would need to outlast any durable cones or seeds in the soil or once things ease up the gymnosperms will come back swinging.

There could be plant refugia like the Wollemia refuge in our timeline - a larger niche which by virtue of topology was protected from UV and where UV sensitive plant species that had been wiped out elsewhere might persist thru the UV apocalypse.

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    $\begingroup$ What about the plants? $\endgroup$ May 29, 2021 at 10:13
  • $\begingroup$ /What about the plants?/ - addended! $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    May 29, 2021 at 18:16

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