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The taxonomic and ecologic composition of Earth's biota has shifted dramatically through geologic time, with some clades going extinct while others diversified. Here, we derive a metric that quantifies the change in biotic composition due to extinction or origination and show that it equals the product of extinction/origination magnitude and selectivity (variation in magnitude among groups). We also define metrics that describe the extent to which a recovery (1) reinforced or reversed the effects of extinction on biotic composition and (2) changed composition in ways uncorrelated with the extinction. To demonstrate the approach, we analyzed an updated compilation of stratigraphic ranges of marine animal genera. We show that mass extinctions were not more selective than background intervals at the phylum level; rather, they tended to drive greater taxonomic change due to their higher magnitudes. Mass extinctions did not represent a separate class of events with respect to either strength of selectivity or effect. Similar observations apply to origination during recoveries from mass extinctions, and on average, extinction and origination were similarly selective and drove similar amounts of biotic change. Elevated origination during recoveries drove bursts of compositional change that varied considerably in effect. In some cases, origination partially reversed the effects of extinction, returning the biota toward the pre-extinction composition; in others, it reinforced the effects of the extinction, magnifying biotic change. Recoveries were as important as extinction events in shaping the marine biota, and their selectivity deserves systematic study alongside that of extinction.
Larger body size has long been assumed to correlate with greater risk of extinction, helping to shape body-size distributions across the tree of life, but a lack of comprehensive size data for fossil taxa has left this hypothesis untested for most higher taxa across the vast majority of evolutionary time. Here we assess the relationship between body size and extinction using a data set comprising the body sizes, stratigraphic ranges, and occurrence patterns of 9408 genera of fossil marine animals spanning eight Linnaean classes across the past 485 Myr. We find that preferential extinction of smaller-bodied genera within classes is substantially more common than expected due to chance and that there is little evidence for preferential extinction of larger-bodied genera. Using a capture–mark–recapture analysis, we find that this size bias of extinction persists even after accounting for a pervasive bias against the sampling of smaller-bodied genera within classes. The size bias in extinction also persists after including geographic range as an additional predictor of extinction, indicating that correlation between body size and geographic range does not provide a simple explanation for the association between size and extinction. Regardless of the underlying causes, the preferential extinction of smaller-bodied genera across many higher taxa and most of geologic time indicates that the selective loss of large-bodied animals is the exception, rather than the rule, in the evolution of marine animals.
The gomphotheres were a diverse and widespread group of proboscideans occupying Eurasia, North America, and South America throughout the Neogene. Their decline was temporally and spatially heterogeneous, and the gomphotheres ultimately became extinct during the late Pleistocene; however, the genus Cuvieronius is rarely represented in late Pleistocene assemblages in North America. Two alternative hypotheses have been invoked to explain this phenomenon: (1) competitive exclusion by sympatric mammoths and mastodons or (2) ecologic displacement due to an environmental transition from closed forests to open grasslands. To test whether competition for resources contributed to the demise of North American Cuvieronius, we present herein a large collection of stable isotope and dental microwear data from populations occupying their Pleistocene refugium in the Atlantic Coastal Plain. Results suggest that Cuvieronius consumed a wide range of resources with variable textural and photosynthetic properties and was not specialized on either grasses or browse. Further, we document evidence for the consumption of similar foods between contemporaneous gomphotheres, mammoths, and mastodons. The generalist feeding strategy of the gomphotheres likely facilitated their high Miocene abundance and diversity. However, this “jack of all trades and master of none” feeding strategy may have proved challenging following the arrival of mammoths and likely contributed to the extirpation of Cuvieronius in North America.
The middle (Wuliuan Stage) Cambrian Burgess Shale is famous for its exceptional preservation of diverse and abundant soft-bodied animals through the “thick” Stephen Formation. However, with the exception of the Walcott Quarry (Fossil Ridge) and the stratigraphically older Tulip Beds (Mount Stephen), which are both in Yoho National Park (British Columbia), quantitative assessments of the Burgess Shale have remained limited. Here we first provide a detailed quantitative overview of the diversity and structure of the Marble Canyon Burgess Shale locality based on 16,438 specimens. Located 40 km southeast of the Walcott Quarry in Kootenay National Park (British Columbia), Marble Canyon represents the youngest site of the “thick” Stephen Formation. We then combine paleoecological data sets from Marble Canyon, Walcott Quarry, Tulip Beds, and Raymond Quarry, which lies approximately 20 m directly above the Walcott Quarry, to yield a combined species abundance data set of 77,179 specimens encompassing 234 species-level taxa. Marble Canyon shows significant temporal changes in both taxonomic and ecological groups, suggesting periods of stasis followed by rapid turnover patterns at local and short temporal scales. At wider geographic and temporal scales, the different Burgess Shale sites occupy distinct areas in multivariate space. Overall, this suggests that the Burgess Shale paleocommunity is far patchier than previously thought and varies at both local and regional scales through the “thick” Stephen Formation. This underscores that our understanding of Cambrian diversity and ecological networks, particularly in early animal ecosystems, remains limited and highly dependent on new discoveries.
Coleoid cephalopods exhibited two distinct reproductive strategies, resulting in small pelagic and large demersal hatchlings, both in the geologic past and recently. In ectocochleate cephalopods, the hatching event is recorded in shell structures (e.g., nepionic constrictions, ultrastructural shifts, or ornamentation differences). In contrast, well-defined hatching markers do not exist on coleoid shells. Changes in septal spacing may be evidence of hatching (e.g., some extant sepiids), but not in all fossil groups. In the present study, we subdivide the early ontogenetic shells of phragmocone-bearing coleoids (belemnoids, spirulids, and sepiids) into key architectural stages and describe their reference to the hatching event. Belemnoids exhibit three key stages, the second of which is here considered to occur shortly before or after hatching. In spirulids and sepiids, there is only one key stage. In Mesozoic belemnoids, spirulids, and sepiids, hatching accordingly occurred with a total shell length of less than 2 mm, which corresponds to mantle lengths of small planktonic hatchlings. Production of small pelagic hatchlings and thus small eggs was therefore the dominant reproductive strategy within the Coleoidea. The first evidence of enlarged hatchlings appeared during the Maastrichtian in Groenlandibelus. During the Eocene, the large-egg strategy apparently became more widespread, particularly in belosaepiids.
Living crinoids are exclusively passive suspension feeders and benthic as adults. However, in the past they adapted to a broad range of ecological niches. For instance, the stratigraphically important middle Paleozoic scyphocrinoids are hypothesized to have been planktonic, employing their inferred gas-filled globular, chambered structure at the distal end of the stem, the so-called lobolith, as a buoyancy device with the crinoid calyx suspended below it. Here, we evaluate this hypothesis using evidence from skeletal micromorphology and theoretical biomechanical modeling. Lobolith walls are typically composed of ossicles, which are exclusively composed of constructional labyrinthic stereom. In plates from the distal side of the lobolith, this stereom extends into microperforate stereom layer, forming wavy ridges and spines. No microscale adaptations for preventing gas leaks and/or ingress of water (such as internal and external imperforate stereom layers) are known. Furthermore, theoretical calculations suggest that the scyphocrinoid tow-net mode of feeding would have resulted in small relative velocities between the towed filter and the ambient water, thus making it an ineffective passive filter feeder. We suggest that the lobolith of these crinoids acted as a modified holdfast rather than as a floating buoy. Its globular shape and distally positioned microspines served as adaptations for living in unconsolidated sediments, analogous to iceberg- and snowshoe-like strategies used by some mollusks and brachiopods. Like modern isocrinids, scyphocrinoids could have maintained an upright feeding posture by extending the distal portion of the stalk along the bottom. In this recumbent posture, the distal part of the stalk with the lobolith might have functioned as a drag anchor. As a consequence of the ∼3-m-long stem, even with this posture, the benthic scyphocrinoids could have risen to the highest epifaunal tier in the Paleozoic.
We document a positive and strong correlation between speciation and extinction rates in the Paleozoic zooplankton graptoloid clade, between 481 and 419 Ma. This correlation has a magnitude of ∼0.35–0.45 and manifests at a temporal resolution of <50 kyr and, for part of our data set, <25 kyr. It cannot be explained as an artifact of the method used to measure rates, sampling bias, bias resulting from construction of the time series, autocorrelation, underestimation of species durations, or undetected phyletic evolution. Correlations are approximately equal during the Ordovician and Silurian, despite the very different speciation and extinction regimes prevailing during these two periods, and correlation is strongest in the shortest-lived cohorts of species.
We infer that this correlation reflects approximately synchronous coupling of speciation and extinction in the graptoloids on timescales of a few tens of thousands of years. Almost half of graptoloid species in our data set have durations of <0.5 Myr, and previous studies have demonstrated that, during times of background extinction, short-lived species were selectively targeted by extinction. These observations may be consistent with the model of ephemeral speciation, whereby new species are inferred to form constantly and at high rate, but most of them disappear rapidly through extinction or reabsorption into the ancestral lineage. Diversity dependence with a lag of ∼1 Myr, also documented elsewhere, may reflect a subsequent and relatively slow, competitive dynamic that governed those species that dispersed beyond their originating water mass and escaped the ephemeral species filter.