The Late Devonian Extinction

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the devastating mass extinctions of the Late Devonian Period, roughly 370 million years ago, when around 70 percent of species disappeared. Scientists are still trying to establish exactly what happened, when and why, but this was not as sudden as when an asteroid hits Earth. The Devonian Period had seen the first trees and soils and it had such a diversity of sea life that it’s known as the Age of Fishes, some of them massive and armoured, and, in one of the iconic stages in evolution, some of them moving onto land for the first time. One of the most important theories for the first stage of this extinction is that the new soils washed into oceans, leading to algal blooms that left the waters without oxygen and suffocated the marine life.

Listen on BBC Sounds website


  • Jessica Whiteside No other episodes
    Associate Professor of Geochemistry in the Department of Ocean and Earth Science at the University of Southampton
  • David Bond No other episodes
    Professor of Geology at the University of Hull
  • Mike Benton 4 episodes
    Professor of Vertebrate Paleontology at the School of Life Sciences, University of Bristol

Reading list

  • Introduction to Paleobiology and the Fossil Record
    Michael J. Benton and David A. T. Harper (Wiley-Blackwell, 2020) Google Books →
  • The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth's Past Mass Extinctions
    Peter Brannen (Harper Collins, 2017) Google Books →
  • Catastrophes and Lesser Calamities: The Causes of Mass Extinctions
    Tony Hallam (Oxford University Press, 2004) Google Books →
  • Mass Extinctions and their Aftermath
    A. Hallam and P. B. Wignall (Oxford University Press, 1997) Google Books →
  • The Late Devonian Mass Extinction: The Frasnian/Famennian Crisis
    George R. Mcghee (Columbia University Press, 1996) Google Books →
  • When the Invasion of Land Failed: The Legacy of the Devonian Extinctions
    George R. Mcghee (Columbia University Press, 2013)
  • Extinction: A Very Short Introduction
    Paul B. Wignall (Oxford University Press, 2019) Google Books →
  • On the causes of mass extinctions
    D. P. G. Bond and S. E. Grasby (Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, vol 478, July 2017)
  • Global Warming and Mass Extinctions Associated With Large Igneous Province Volcanism
    David P. G. Bond and Yadong Sun (Advancing Earth and Space Science, 8 January 2021)
  • Prehistoric climate change damaged the ozone layer and led to a mass extinction
    J. E. Marshall (The Conversation, June 2020)
  • Devonian global changes- recent advances and challenges in different domains
    G. Racki and P. Wignall (Global and Planetary Change, July 2020)
  • End-Devonian extinction and a bottleneck in the early evolution of modern jawed vertebrates
    L. C. Sallan and M. I. Coates (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, vol 107, 2010)

Related episodes

Programme ID: m000sz7x

Episode page:

Auto-category: 560.4 (Paleontology)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello. Some mass extinctions happen instantly, as when an asteroid hits the Earth, and some can take millions of years.