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Extinctions in a model taxonomic hierarchy

  • James W. Valentine (a1) and Timothy D. Walker (a1)

Abstract

A computer model of background and mass extinctions in a taxonomic hierarchy has been used to study the effects of different extinction patterns in a search for clues as to the causes of actual extinction events. Model taxa at four levels were built up from speciation events in adaptive space according to rules of origination which seem plausible biologically. The frequency distribution of species among the three higher taxonomic levels in the model is similar to that in living marine taxa which have good fossil records. Three mass extinction patterns were imposed on the model after species diversity had attained equilibrium (i.e., when speciation = background extinction): random; bloc (contiguous niches were cleared); and clade (all members of selected higher taxa were removed). Effects on the taxonomic profile varied with pattern. Four of the five historical mass extinctions resemble the effects of the random pattern. End-Permian families were harder hit than those in the random model, but this may be a result of an extremely high species extinction level. It is concluded that the effect of extinctions on the taxonomic hierarchy provides a tool to help in understanding extinction causes.

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