Patterns of family extinction depend on definition and geological timescale

Abstract

The recent claim1 of an approximate 26-Myr periodicity in the pattern of mass species extinction over the past 250 Myr has already stimulated much astrophysical speculation and debate on causal mechanisms2–13. However, as shown here, the evidence for that claim is strongly contingent on arbitrary decisions concerning the absolute dating of stratigraphical boundaries14, the culling of the database and the definition of what is mass extinction as opposed to background extinction. This evidence becomes insufficient under other plausible geological timescales and other acceptable definitions of mass extinction. Analysis of the nonculled database shows that the reliability of identification of mass extinctions and their timing is at present extremely limited. It also suggests that the apparent periodicity of mass extinctions results from stochastic processes.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

References

  1. 1

    Raup, D. M. & Sepkoski, J. J. Proc. natn. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 81, 801–805 (1984).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Rampino, M. A. & Stothers, R. B. Nature 308, 709–712 (1984).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Schwartz, R. D. & James, P. B. Nature 308, 712–713 (1984).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Whitmire, D. P. & Jackson, A. A. Nature 308, 713–715 (1984).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Davis, M., Hut, P. & Muller, R. A. Nature 308, 715–717 (1984).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Alvarez, W. & Muller, R. A. Nature 308, 718–720 (1984).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Clube, S. V. M. & Napier, W. M. Nature 311, 635–636 (1984).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Hills, J. G. Nature 311, 636–638 (1984).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Hut, P. Nature 311, 638–641 (1984).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Torbett, M. V. & Smoluchowski, R. Nature 311, 641–642 (1984).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Weissman, P. R. Nature 312, 380 (1984).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Rampino, M. A. & Stothers, R. B. Science 226, 1427–1431 (1984).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Whitmire, D. P. & Matese, J. J. Nature 313, 36–38 (1985).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Hallam, A. Nature 308, 686–687 (1984).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Sepkoski, J. J. Milwaukee Publ. Mus. Contr. Geol. Biol. 51, 1–125 (1982); later corrections (August 1983).

    Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Raup, D. M. Science 177, 1065–1071 (1972).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Raup, D. M. Paleobiology 2, 289–297 (1976).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Sepkoski, J. J. Paleobiology 2, 298–303 (1976).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    Signor, P. D. Paleobiology 4, 394–406 (1978).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Signor, P. D. Geology 10, 625–628 (1982).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Flessa, K. W. & Jablonski, D. Nature 313, 216–218 (1985).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22

    Hallam, A. Lethaia 9, 245–259 (1976).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23

    Hallam, A. Paleobiology 3, 58–73 (1977).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24

    Sepkoski, J. J. Geol. Soc. Am. spec. Pap. 190, 283–289 (1982).

    Google Scholar 

  25. 25

    Keller, G. Mar. Micropaleont. 7, 463–486 (1983).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26

    Keller, G., D'Hondt, S. & Vallier, T. L. Science 221, 150–152 (1983).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27

    Snyder, S. W., Müller, C. & Miller, K. G. Geology 12, 112–115 (1984).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28

    Corliss, B. H. et al. Science 226, 806–810 (1984).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29

    Blank, R. G. & Ellis, C. H. J. Geol. 90, 415–434 (1982).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30

    Nichols, J. D. & Pollock, K. H. Paleobiology 9, 150–163 (1983).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. 31

    Raup, D. M. Geol. Soc. Am. spec. Pap. 190, 277–282 (1982).

    Google Scholar 

  32. 32

    Odin, G. S. (ed.) Numerical Dating in Stratigraphy (Wiley, New York, 1982).

  33. 33

    Harland, W. B. et al. A Geologic Time Scale (Cambridge University Press, 1983).

    Google Scholar 

  34. 34

    Raup, D. M., Sepkoski, J. J. & Stigler, S. M. Science 219, 1240–1241 (1983).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  35. 35

    Alvarez, L. W., Alvarez, W., Asaro, F. & Michel, H. V. Science 208, 1095–1108 (1980).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  36. 36

    Alvarez, W., Alvarez, L. W., Asaro, F. & Michel, H. V. Geol. Soc. Am. spec. Pap. 190, 305–315 (1982).

    Google Scholar 

  37. 37

    Montanari, H. et al. Geology 11, 668–671 (1983).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  38. 38

    Alvarez, W., Alvarez, L. W., Asaro, F. & Michel, H. V. Science 223, 1183–1186 (1984).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  39. 39

    Bohor, B. F., Foord, E. E., Modreski, P. J. & Triplehorn, D. M. Science 224, 867–869 (1984).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  40. 40

    Gilmore, J. S., Knight, J. D., Orth, C. J., Pillmore, C. J. & Tschudy, R. H. Nature 307, 224–228 (1984).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  41. 41

    Smit, J. & Kyte, F. T. Nature 310, 403–405 (1984).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  42. 42

    Stanley, S. M. Geology 12, 205–208 (1984).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  43. 43

    Alvarez, W. et al. Science 223, 1135–1141 (1984).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  44. 44

    Kauffman, E. G. in Catastrophes and Earth History (eds Berggren, W. A. & Van Couvering, J. A.) 151–246 (Princeton University Press, 1984).

    Google Scholar 

  45. 45

    Hoffman, A. Neues Jb. Geol. Paläont. (in the press).

  46. 46

    Jablonski, D. in Dynamics of Extinction (ed. Elliott, D.) (Wiley, New York, in the press).

  47. 47

    Ganapathy, R. Science 216, 885–886 (1982).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  48. 48

    Alvarez, W., Asaro, F., Michel, H. V. & Alvarez, L. W. Science 216, 886–888 (1982).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  49. 49

    Raup, D. M. & Sepkoski, J. J. Science 215, 1501–1503 (1982).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  50. 50

    Van Valen, L. M. Nature 307, 50–52 (1984).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  51. 51

    Kitchell, J. A. & Pena, D. Science 226, 689–692 (1984).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  52. 52

    Hoffman, A. & Ghiold, J. Geol. Mag. 122, 1–4 (1985).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  53. 53

    Flessa, K. W. & Levinton, J. S. J. Geol. 83, 239–248 (1975).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Hoffman, A. Patterns of family extinction depend on definition and geological timescale. Nature 315, 659–662 (1985). https://doi.org/10.1038/315659a0

Download citation

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.