Corals are particularly hard-hit by subtle changes in ocean temperature and acidity. About 200 million years ago, corals and reefs completely collapsed.

During this particular extinction event, researchers have found no evidence of asteroid impact or other catastrophic events. Instead, the geologic and paleontological records point to massive global climate change.

"We believe the warming climate was due to a combination effect from super-continent Pangea breaking apart, changes in sea level and massive amounts of gas spewing into the atmosphere from cracks in the Earth's crust," said Montana Hodges, doctoral student at University of Montana.

After that mass extinction event, it took coral reefs more than 20 million years to completely recover. In the dusty, high desert of central Nevada in US, the team discovered the earliest North American Jurassic corals.

"The Jurassic corals represent a recovery of all species after the event," Hodges said.

"They are simple, solitary corals that lived in thick mud, which may have helped their survival during such a tumultuous time. Or they may have migrated from the distant side of Pangea," Hodges said.

The study was published in the journal GSA Today.


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