PMID: 11539792Jan 1, 1989

Periodicity in extinction and the problem of catastrophism in the history of life

Journal of the Geological Society
J J Sepkoski


The hypothesis that extinction events have recurred periodically over the last quarter billion years is greatly strengthened by new data on the stratigraphic ranges of marine animal genera. In the interval from the Permian to Recent, these data encompass some 13,000 generic extinctions, providing a more sensitive indicator of species-level extinctions than previously used familial data. Extinction time series computed from the generic data display nine strong peaks that are nearly uniformly spaced at 26 Ma intervals over the last 270 Ma. Most of these peaks correspond to extinction events recognized in more detailed, if limited, biostratigraphic studies. These new data weaken or negate most arguments against periodicity, which have involved criticisms of the taxonomic data base, sampling intervals, chronometric time scales, and statistical methods used in previous analyses. The criticisms are reviewed in some detail and various new calculations and simulations, including one assessing the effects of paraphyletic taxa, are presented. Although the new data strengthen the case for periodicity, they offer little new insight into the deriving mechanism behind the pattern. However, they do suggest that many of the periodic events may...Continue Reading


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