Extinction intensity during Ordovician and Cenozoic glaciations explained by cooling and palaeogeography

Erin Saupe, Huijie Qiao, Yannick Donnadieu, Alexander J Farnsworth, Alan T Kennedy-Asser, Jean-Baptiste Ladant, Dan J Lunt, Alexandre Pohl, Paul J Valdes, Seth Finnegan

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

35 Citations (Scopus)
271 Downloads (Pure)


A striking feature of the marine fossil record is the variable intensity of extinction during superficially similar climate transitions. Here we combine climate models and species trait simulations to explore the degree to which differing palaeogeographic boundary conditions and differing magnitudes of cooling and glaciation can explain the relative intensity of marine extinction during greenhouse–icehouse transitions in the Late Ordovician and the Cenozoic. Simulations modelled the response of virtual species to cooling climate using a spatially explicit cellular automaton algorithm. We find that palaeogeography alone may be a contributing factor, as identical changes in meridional sea surface temperature gradients caused greater extinction in Late Ordovician simulations than in Cenozoic simulations. Differences in extinction from palaeogeography are significant, but by themselves are insufficient to explain observed differences in extinction intensity. However, when simulations included inferred changes in continental flooding and interval-specific models of sea surface temperature, predicted differences in relative extinction intensity were more consistent with observations from the fossil record. Our results support the hypothesis that intense extinction in the Late Ordovician is partially attributable to exceptionally rapid and severe cooling compared to Cenozoic events.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages7
JournalNature Geoscience
Publication statusPublished - 16 Dec 2020


  • Biogeochemistry
  • Climate change
  • Climate sciences
  • Marine biology


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