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On the estimation of taxonomic longevity from Lyellian curves

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 April 2016

Jeffrey S. Levinton
Department of Ecology and Evolution, State University of New York, Stony Brook, New York 11794-5245
James S. Farris
Department of Ecology and Evolution, State University of New York, Stony Brook, New York 11794-5245


Stanley's (1979) method of estimating taxonomic longevity from Lyellian curves differs from Kurtén's (1960) because of different underlying assumptions. Kurtén's model supposes that taxon richness and longevity are stochastically invariate over the period used for the Lyellian estimate. Both Kurtén and Stanley seek to calculate the average longevity of a taxon, when the temporal stratigraphic ranges are known after and before a given time datum. Under the exponential decay model used by Kurtén, mean taxonomic longevity is indeed approximately 2.89 half-lives, as he maintained. Stanley's estimate is based on the unrealistic assumptions of uniform longevity and evenly-spaced origins of fossil taxa. This leads to an estimate of longevity as exactly two half-lives.

Copyright © The Paleontological Society 

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