Triassic-Jurassic vegetation response to carbon cycle perturbations and climate change

Remco Bos*, Sofie Lindström, Han van Konijnenburg-van Cittert, Frederik Hilgen, Teuntje P. Hollaar, Hendrik Aalpoel, Carolien van der Weijst, Hamed Sanei, Arka Rudra, Appy Sluijs, Bas van de Schootbrugge

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Disturbances in terrestrial vegetation across the end-Triassic mass-extinction (ETME) and earliest Jurassic (∼201.5–201.3 Ma) have previously been linked to carbon cycle perturbations induced by the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province. Large-scale volcanic degassing has been proposed to have affected the terrestrial realm through various mechanisms. However, the effects of long-term “super greenhouse” climate variability on vegetation dynamics following the mass-extinction remain poorly understood. Based on a 10-million-year long multi-proxy record of northern Germany (Schandelah-1, Germany, paleolatitude of ∼41°N) spanning the late Rhaetian to the Sinemurian (∼201.5–190.8 Ma), we aim to assess mechanistic links between carbon cycle perturbations, climate change, and vegetation dynamics. Based on a high-resolution palynofloral record a two-phased extinction emerges, confirming extinction patterns seen in other studies. The first phase is associated with a decline in arborescent conifers, coinciding with a negative carbon isotope excursion and an influx of aquatic palynomorphs. Following this decline, we find a stepwise rise of ferns at the cost of trees during the latest Rhaetian, culminating with the extinction of tree taxa at the Triassic-Jurassic boundary. The rise in ferns is accompanied by an increase in reworked organic matter and charcoal, suggestive of erosion and wildfires. Furthermore, the Hettangian (201.3–199.3 Ma) vegetation in NW Europe shows evidence of long-term disturbance reflected by the periodic resurgence of fern taxa, similarly accompanied by increases in reworking and charcoal. This periodicity is linked to the 405-kyr eccentricity cycle indicating a biome that responded to astronomically induced variability in hydrology. A transition into an apparently more stable biome starts during the early Sinemurian, where palynofloral assemblages become dominated by bisaccate pollen taxa, mainly derived from conifers. The ETME was clearly forced by the effects of volcanogenic emissions, such as SO2, CO2 and other pollutants, acting on both short (0.1–10 kyrs) and long timescales (10–100 kyrs). In contrast, charcoal and detrital input indicators show that the disturbances during the Hettangian were driven by periodic shifts in the regional hydrological regime. This was forced by the effects of orbital insolation variation and potentially exacerbated by increased atmospheric pCO2. The cyclic progression of ecosystem disturbance was similar to that of the ETME and only recovered during the early Sinemurian. Atmospheric pCO2 remained elevated after CAMP-activity had subsided due to a collapse of terrestrial biomass and carbonate producers. This inability to store carbon on long timescales could therefore have impeded global recovery.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104211
Number of pages23
JournalGlobal and Planetary Change
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2023


  • Carbon cycle
  • Central Atlantic Magmatic Province
  • Climate variability
  • Early Jurassic
  • End-Triassic Mass-Extinction
  • Terrestrial palynology
  • Vegetation disturbance


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