Recovery of marine biodiversity following the Permo-Triassic extinction is thought to have been delayed relative to other mass extinctions. Terrestrial vertebrate biodiversity is said to have taken as much as 15 Myr longer to recover than the marine. The present study tests, at the scale of an individual fossil community, whether a disparity in biodiversity existed in the American Southwest, between the Moenkopi Formation, containing an early Middle Triassic (Anisian) terrestrial tetrapod fauna, and the Chinle Formation, containing a successor Late Triassic (Norian) tetrapod fauna. Taking Chinle faunal biodiversity to represent full biotic recovery, comparison of taxonomic and guild diversity of faunas from similar depositional and taphonomic environments in these two formations allowed us to assess the possibility of incipient terrestrial recovery of biodiversity in the Anisian.
Comparisons were made between the Holbrook Member fauna of the Moenkopi, a unit best characterized as a low-sinuosity medium- to coarse-grained fluvial deposit, and each of four Chinle stratigraphic units, representing fluvial settings from sandy low-sinuosity to muddy high-sinuosity. Three metrics were applied: generic and familial taxonomic diversity and guild diversity; these were compared by rarefaction. Simpson and Shannon diversity metrics augmented the analysis. Units of extraordinary preservation in the Chinle—the so-called blue layers—were removed from the analysis. In all tests the biodiversity of the Holbrook Member fauna is within the variation seen in Chinle faunas.
If the results of our study represent global conditions, they suggest that by at least early Anisian time (∼6 Myr after the P/T extinction) biodiversity had reached levels comparable to those seen in the Late Triassic. This potentially brings the terrestrial vertebrate recovery in line with the 4–8 Myr it took for recovery in the marine realm.