Cascading trend of Early Paleozoic marine radiations paused by Late Ordovician extinctions

Christian M.Ø. Rasmussen*, Björn Kröger, Morten L. Nielsen, Jorge Colmenar

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

114 Citations (Scopus)
253 Downloads (Pure)


The greatest relative changes in marine biodiversity accumulation occurred during the Early Paleozoic. The precision of temporal constraints on these changes is crude, hampering our understanding of their timing, duration, and links to causal mechanisms. We match fossil occurrence data to their lithostratigraphical ranges in the Paleobiology Database and correlate this inferred taxon range to a constructed set of biostratigraphically defined high-resolution time slices. In addition, we apply capture–recapture modeling approaches to calculate a biodiversity curve that also considers ta-phonomy and sampling biases with four times better resolution of previous estimates. Our method reveals a stepwise biodiversity increase with distinct Cambrian and Ordovician radiation events that are clearly separated by a 50-million-year-long period of slow biodiversity accumulation. The Ordovician Radiation is confined to a 15-million-year phase after which the Late Ordovician extinctions lowered generic richness and further delayed a biodiversity rebound by at least 35 million years. Based on a first-differences approach on potential abiotic drivers controlling richness, we find an overall correlation with oxygen levels, with temperature also exhibiting a coordinated trend once equatorial sea surface temperatures fell to present-day levels during the Middle Ordovician Darriwilian Age. Contrary to the traditional view of the Late Ordovician extinctions, our study suggests a protracted crisis interval linked to intense volcanism during the middle Late Ordovician Katian Age. As richness levels did not return to prior levels during the Silurian—a time of continental amalgamation—we further argue that plate tectonics exerted an overarching control on biodiversity accumulation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7207-7213
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number15
Early online date9 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - 9 Apr 2019


  • Biodiversity accumulation
  • Capture–recapture
  • Earth state shifts
  • First differences
  • Ordovician radiation
  • Extinction, Biological
  • Biodiversity
  • Paleontology
  • Databases, Factual


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