Ecology and Extinction — Macroevolutionary Extinction Dynamics in a Simulated Ecosystem

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4 Author(s)

A number of models of macroevolutionary extinction dynamics have been proposed during the past decade or so. Many of these models produce results that are in good accord with empirical data, as drawn from the fossil record. However, they all still suffer from significant shortcomings. A new simulation based model is presented here that attempts to address some of the weaknesses and limitations of these existing models. The simulation is driven by ecology level interactions amongst dynamically changing populations of species in a theoretical food web, coupled with the effects of external environmental stresses. The results of a number of extended runs of the simulation are presented and discussed. It is observed that it is the interactions between intrinsic ecological factors, and external environmental factors, that determine the specific extinction dynamics generated. Ecological factors appear key in defining the large-scale statistical trends of the system. Environniental factors appear to act as a sort of ‘tempo keeper’, determining the precise timing of extinction events within the large-scale framework. Overall, the results from the simulation suggest that macroevolutionary patterns of extinctions are primarily generated intrinsically by an ecosystem. Environmental factors are not so much a direct cause of extinction events, as a determinant of the precise timing of events that will, in any case, inevitably ensue