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  • Cited by 23
  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: June 2012

14 - Speciation, extinction and diversity

Summary

Biologists have long endeavoured to understand variation in the number of species over the surface of the earth, but have not reached a general consensus on the causes of observed patterns. Early explanations focused on history, including the effects of Ice Age climate change on diversity at northern latitudes (Wallace 1878) and the age and area of a region (Willis 1922). Paleontologists have used the fossil record to characterize vicissitudes of diversity through time, particularly the effects of catastrophic events and the replacement of older taxa by newer forms (Simpson 1944, 1953; Stanley 1979). Beginning in the 1960s, ecologists emphasized the ability of species to coexist locally in communities of interacting species, largely ignoring the effects of history (Kingsland 1985; Ricklefs 1987) and explaining variation in diversity in terms of the ability of environments to support interacting populations (MacArthur & Levins 1967; MacArthur 1970; Vandermeer 1972; May 1975). This approach proved to be compelling, and paleontologists soon integrated population thinking in their work, constructing models of diversification to explain patterns in taxon richness through time (Raup & Gould 1974). MacArthur and Wilson's (1967) equilibrium theory of island biogeography was influential in this regard, particularly the application of models of species formation and extinction within regions to understand both long-term stasis in diversity and variation in diversity at global scales (Rosenzweig 1995).

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