The evolutionary significance of mass extinctions

Trends in Ecology & Evolution
M J Benton


Local extinctions of populations, species or groups of species in a particular area are commonly observed by biologists. There are also historical records of the total extinction of single species such as the Dodo, the Great Auk and the Tasmanian Wolf. Mass extinctions are on a much larger scale, and their study is based on the fossil record. The aims of this review are to explore the nature of mass extinctions and their evolutionary significance. The key questions are: what is mass extinction, what are the causes of mass extinctions, do mass extinctions follow a regular pattern, and how do mass extinctions affect our understanding of evolutionary processes?


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