Nothing in Common

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Science  07 Jan 2005:
Vol. 307, Issue 5706, pp. 18
DOI: 10.1126/science.307.5706.18c

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Analyses of the diversity of marine genera through the Phanerozoic have identified five great global mass extinctions. Bambach et al. use Sepkoski's compilation of the stratigraphic ranges of genera at the stage and substage levels to evaluate the continuity of these five big events with background extinction. They see six major temporal intervals of alternating high and low extinction intensity. The Late Devonian and end-Triassic diversity crashes occurred during intervals of generally high extinction and low origination. For these events, extinction intensities—although higher than the average for the inclusive interval—are not distinct outliers, and almost two-thirds of the diversity loss is explained by reduced origination. For the end-Ordovician, end-Permian, and end-Cretaceous events, origination rates exceed those in their temporal neighborhoods, and extinction rates are exceptionally high. These three events appear to differ from each other and from the other two in their physiological selectivity, their ecological impact, and the nature of their effects on particular taxa, and hence are unlikely to be due to a common cause. — SJS

Paleobiology 30, 522 (2004).

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