The colonization of land by plants, fungi and animals has had a profound impact on Earth’s climate and oxygenation state. In a comprehensive review paper, we have summarized the current state of knowledge and compiled available evidence in support that terrestrial life has caused:

  1. Atmospheric CO2 decline and climatic cooling (permanent transition)
  2. Atmospheric O2 rise and ocean oxygenation (potentially permanent transition)
  3. Ocean fertilization and anoxia (temporary perturbations, ~1 Myr)
The early history of land plants and five ecologically distinct stages that affected the Earth’s climate and oxygenation state in various ways. The global carbon cycle (monitored by d13C in marine carbonate worldwide) reflect changes that may be ascribed the impact of terrestrial life. New isotope records can illuminate the global changes of terrestrial weathering, marine anoxia, and temperatures, while detailed investigations of dynamics of shorter events can reveal the drivers and feedbacks at play in the Earth system. When combined with the paleontogical records and process-driven models involving biological, we will decipher the role of terrestrial life on a planetary scale.

We argue that the transition occurred in five steps (see figure). Still, it is unclear when and how plants (and their companions) affected the Earth system. For example, there seems to be a mismatch in terms of when the rise of vascular plants affected atmospheric O2 and CO2 the most.