Papers in the Biological Sciences


Date of this Version



Ecology, 96(2), 2015, pp. 532–549


2015 by the Ecological Society of America


Ecologists are increasingly using the fossil record of mass extinction to build predictive models for the ongoing biodiversity crisis. During mass extinctions, major depletions in global (i.e., gamma) diversity may reflect decrease in alpha diversity (i.e., local assemblages support fewer taxa), and/or decrease in beta diversity (such that similar pools of taxa are common to a greater number of local areas). Contrasting the effects of extinction on alpha and beta diversity is therefore central to understanding how global richness becomes depleted over these critical events. Here we investigate the spatial effects of mass extinction by examining changes in alpha, beta, and gamma diversity in brachiopod communities over both pulses of Ordovician-Silurian extinction (;445.2 and ;438.8 million years ago), which had dramatically different causal mechanisms. We furthermore reconstruct geographic range sizes for brachiopod genera to test competing models for drivers of beta diversity change. We find that: (1) alpha and beta diversity respond differently to extinction; (2) these responses differ between pulses of extinction; (3) changes in beta diversity associated with extinction are accompanied by changes in geographic range size; and (4) changes in global beta diversity were driven by the extinction of taxa with statistically small and large ranges, rather than range expansion/contraction in taxa that survive into the aftermath. A symptom of ongoing biotic crisis may therefore be the extinction of specific narrow- or wide-ranging taxa, rather than the global proliferation of opportunistic and ‘‘disaster’’ forms. In addition, our results illustrate that changes in beta diversity on these longer timescales may largely be dictated by emplacement and removal of barriers to dispersal. Lastly, this study reinforces the utility of the fossil record in addressing questions surrounding the role of global-scale processes (such as mass extinctions) in sculpting and assembling regional biotas.

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