Royal Society Publishing

Extinctions in the Fossil Record [and Discussion]

David Jablonski, W. G. Chaloner


Direct comparison of ancient extinctions to the present-day situation is difficult, because quantitative palaeontological data come primarily from marine invertebrates, fossilized species are usually drawn from the more abundant and widespread taxa, and time resolution is rarely better than 10<latex>$^{3}$</latex>-10<latex>$^{4}$</latex> years. A growing array of techniques permits quantitative error estimates on some of these potential biases, and allows calculation of species extinction intensities from genus-level data, which are more robust. Extensive as today's species losses probably are, they have yet to equal any of the Big Five mass extinctions. Background extinction patterns are potential sources of insight regarding present-day biotic losses; over 90% of past species extinction has occurred at times other than the Big Five mass extinctions. Mean durations of fossil species vary by more than an order of magnitude even within clades, rendering uninformative any global average for background extinction. Taxon-specific variation is evidently related to intrinsic biotic factors such as geographic range and population size. Approaches to extinction analysis and prediction based on morphological variety or biodisparity should be explored as an adjunct or alternative to taxon inventories or phylogenetic metrics. Rebounds from mass extinctions are geologically rapid but ecologically slow; biodiversity recovery and the re-establishment of some communities typically requires 5-10 million years.