Evol Ecol Res 17: 835-847 (2016)     Full PDF if your library subscribes.

On the evolution of extinction rates

Michael L. Rosenzweig

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, USA

Correspondence: M.L. Rosenzweig, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721-0088, USA. email: scarab@u.arizona.edu


Aim: Consider and compare the evolutionary influences on extinction rates at the species level.

Question: Does extinction rate evolve?

Hypothetical conclusions: Yes, extinction evolves. Important traits such as senescence and sex may be due to group selection working against high extinction rates in species that lack senescence and sex. Sometimes, however, reduced extinction rates may evolve more conventionally by natural selection working to improve the reproductive biology of a species. And sometimes species may evolve to dominate a community’s best habitats even if that evolution increases its probability of extinction. Despite likely changes at the species level in the probability of extinction, the fossil record suggests that mean extinction rates have not trended much at all during the Phanerozoic.

Keywords: group selection, Coryphantha, consumption of the variance, senescence, sex, tolerance/intolerance competition, shared-preference habitat selection, Phanerozoic.

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