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Nonconstant extinction rates of Neogene planktonic foraminifera

Abstract

Van Valen's ‘new evolutionary law’1 has provoked considerable discussion of survivorship of fossil taxa2–5 and of the Red Queen's hypothesis6–7. Van Valen's principal conclusion was that survivorship curves of fossil taxa are essentially linear1, indicating that the mean probability of extinction within an ecologically homogeneous group has been constant1,8. Despite some criticism about his methodology9–11, constant extinction rates have been regarded as the general rule for fossil taxa12 and the empirical basis for the Red Queen's hypothesis7,13,14. We show here the fallacy of the concept of constant extinction rates by applying his survivorship-curve technique1,2 to longevity data for Neogene planktonic foraminifera15 which clearly exhibit nonconstant extinction rates through geological time. The linearity of survivorship curves only indicates that the probability of extinction of a species is independent of its longevity. The mean longevities and extinction rates of tropical, transitional and temperate assemblages are statistically similar.

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Wei, KY., Kennett, J. Nonconstant extinction rates of Neogene planktonic foraminifera. Nature 305, 218–220 (1983). https://doi.org/10.1038/305218a0

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