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Extinction Selectivity

Phanerozoic trends in the geographic range selectivity of genus survivorship. Positive log-odds indicate a positive association between geographic range and extinction risk, and negative log-odds indicate an inverse association. A) Selectivity estimated from a single logistic regression of geographic range versus survivorship. B) Geographic range selectivity from multiple logistic regression of geographic range, species richness, and occurrence frequency versus survivorship. From Payne and Finnegan, 2007, PNAS.

One of the most important unsolved questions in the fields of paleobiology, evolution, and conservation biology is why some species go extinct while others survive. Patterns of extinction selectivity in the fossil record can shed light on the causes of mass extinction events, reveal differences in process between background and mass extinction, quantify the importance of selection above the species level in driving evolutionary patterns, and help us to predict which living species are at greatest risk of extinction. Our current research focuses on quantifying extinction selectivity with respect to global and local parameters (e.g., geographic range, body size, local abundance) for both background and mass extinction intervals. Two important, but not exclusive, foci of the work are on quantifying differences in selectivity between background and mass extinction events and on using selectivity patterns to test among hypothesized causes of mass extinctions.