Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Department of


Date of this Version



NATURE COMMUNICATIONS | (2021) 12:5511 |


Open access.


Harmful algal and bacterial blooms linked to deforestation, soil loss and global warming are increasingly frequent in lakes and rivers. We demonstrate that climate changes and deforestation can drive recurrent microbial blooms, inhibiting the recovery of freshwater ecosystems for hundreds of millennia. From the stratigraphic successions of the Sydney Basin, Australia, our fossil, sedimentary and geochemical data reveal bloom events following forest ecosystem collapse during the most severe mass extinction in Earth’s history, the end- Permian event (EPE; c. 252.2 Ma). Microbial communities proliferated in lowland fresh and brackish waterbodies, with algal concentrations typical of modern blooms. These initiated before any trace of post-extinction recovery vegetation but recurred episodically for >100 kyrs. During the following 3 Myrs, algae and bacteria thrived within short-lived, poorly-oxygenated, and likely toxic lakes and rivers. Comparisons to global deep-time records indicate that microbial blooms are persistent freshwater ecological stressors during warming-driven extinction events.