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Identifying the most surprising victims of mass extinction events: an example using Late Ordovician brachiopods.

Finnegan, S. and Rasmussen, C.M.Ø. and Harper, D.A.T. (2017) 'Identifying the most surprising victims of mass extinction events: an example using Late Ordovician brachiopods.', Biology letters., 13 (9). p. 20170400.


Mass extinction events are recognized by increases in extinction rate and magnitude and, often, by changes in the selectivity of extinction. When considering the selective fingerprint of a particular event, not all taxon extinctions are equally informative: some would be expected even under a ‘background’ selectivity regime, whereas others would not and thus require special explanation. When evaluating possible drivers for the extinction event, the latter group is of particular interest. Here, we introduce a simple method for identifying these most surprising victims of extinction events by training models on background extinction intervals and using these models to make per-taxon assessments of ‘expected’ risk during the extinction interval. As an example, we examine brachiopod genus extinctions during the Late Ordovician Mass Extinction and show that extinction of genera in the deep-water ‘Foliomena fauna’ was particularly unexpected given preceding Late Ordovician extinction patterns.

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Publisher statement:© 2017 The Authors. Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, provided the original author and source are credited.
Date accepted:06 September 2017
Date deposited:02 October 2017
Date of first online publication:27 September 2017
Date first made open access:02 October 2017

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