At the end of the Triassic period 200 million years ago, there was a mass-extinction event that caused the extinction of more than half of all living species. It was this extinction event that allowed dinosaurs to become the dominant species for the next 145 million years. We do not know exactly what happened that eliminated so many species in a relatively short period of time, but there are several possible explanations.
One theory involves the decline of sea levels. Near the end of the Triassic period, sea levels were fluctuating. When sea levels fall, the habitats for ocean populations that live in the shallows and land species that live on the coast are destroyed. The destruction of coastal and shallow-ocean species would have had a profound effect on food chains worldwide, leading to mass extinctions.
Another theory involves massive climate cooling. The end of the Triassic period was marked by widespread volcanic activity. The volcanoes released large amounts of sulfur dioxide (SO2). A rise in atmospheric SO2 is known to cause a lowering in global temperatures. Such climate change could have devastated many species and led to the extinctions.
The third theory involves an asteroid strike. Asteroids (objects from outer space) occasionally collide with Earth. When an asteroid hits Earth’s surface, it often displaces large amounts of soil and crushed rock, leaving behind a depression, or crater. The displaced debris is thrown up into the atmosphere where it can block out sunlight for many months or even a few years. A sufficiently massive asteroid impact at the end of the Triassic period may have blocked sunlight long enough for most plants to die and many animal species to then starve.