families will survive even if most of their contained species disappear. This commonsense observation may be described mathematically as an example of rarefaction (see also p. 95), a useful technique for estimating between scales of observation (Box 7.1). The "intermediate" mass extinctions (Fig. 7.2) are associated with losses of 20-30% of families, scaling to perhaps 50% of species, while the "minor" mass extinctions experienced perhaps 10% family loss and 20-30% species loss.
Pattern and timing of mass extinctions_
Good-quality fossil records indicate a variety of patterns of extinction. Detailed collecting of planktonic microfossils based on centimeter-by-centimeter sampling up to, and across, crucial mass extinction boundaries offers the best evidence of the patterns of mass extinctions. In detail, some of the patterns reveal a stepped pattern of decline over a time interval of 0.5-1.5 myr during which 53% of the
Box 7.1 Rarefaction and predicting species numbers from family numbers
Rarefaction is a statistical technique used most commonly by paleontologists to investigate the effect of sample size on taxon counts. So, a common question might be: "How many specimens should I collect in this quarry in order to find all the species?" Ecologists have used this concept, sometimes called the collector curve or accumulation curve, for decades (see p. 535). By plotting cumulative new species found against the number of specimens collected or observed, you can reconstruct a predictive pattern (Fig. 7.3a). After collecting one specimen, you will have identified one species. The next 10 specimens probably will not add another 10 new species, perhaps only three or four. The next 100 specimens might add another 10 or 15 species. The more you collect, the more you find, but there is a law of diminishing returns. At a certain point, as the species versus effort (that is, specimens or time spent searching) curve approaches an asymptote, it is easy to estimate roughly what the final total number of species would be if you just kept on collecting doggedly for days and days.
Rarefaction is a procedure to estimate the completeness of a species list if a smaller sample had been taken. So, if 1000 specimens were collected, it might be of value to know the size of the species count if only 100 specimens, or 10 specimens had been collected at random. The data in the collector curve can be culled or sampled randomly by removing 90% or 99% of records, respectively. In a typical example (Fig. 7.3b), a collection of 750 specimens yielded a species count of 30. If the collection had been half the size, only 20 species would have been identified.
Raup (1979), in a neat example of lateral thinking, applied "reverse rarefaction" to an unknown question: if we know that 50% of families of marine animals were killed off by the end-Permian mass extinction, how many species might that represent? Paleontologists are more confident of their raw data on the numbers of families that existed in the past than the number of species because families are harder to miss (they are bigger, and you only have to find one species to identify the presence of a family). Raup modeled the distribution of species numbers in families - some families contain one species, others contain 200. He then culled at random 50% of families from this distribution, and showed that this equates to a loss of as many as 96% of species. McKinney (1995) criticized Raup's assumption that the 50% of extinct families would be a random cut from all families around at the time. McKinney argued, probably correctly, for the "dodo principle": the extinct families would include a disproportionate number of those that were vulnerable, especially those containing small numbers of species. Highly species-rich families would be less vulnerable, and so the 96% figure might be an overestimate. McKinney (1995) suggested a more likely figure of 80% species loss at the end-Permian event.
Read more about rarefaction in paleobiology in Hammer and Harper (2005) and its use in ecology in Gotelli and Colwell (2001). Implementations may be found through http://www. blackwellpublishing.com/paleobiology/.
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