Diversification and extinction in the history of life

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Science  07 Apr 1995:
Vol. 268, Issue 5207, pp. 52-58
DOI: 10.1126/science.7701342


Analysis of the fossil record of microbes, algae, fungi, protists, plants, and animals shows that the diversity of both marine and continental life increased exponentially since the end of the Precambrian. This diversification was interrupted by mass extinctions, the largest of which occurred in the Early Cambrian, Late Ordovician, Late Devonian, Late Permian, Early Triassic, Late Triassic, and end-Cretaceous. Most of these extinctions were experienced by both marine and continental organisms. As for the periodicity of mass extinctions, no support was found: Seven mass extinction peaks in the last 250 million years are spaced 20 to 60 million years apart.