Correlations in fossil extinction and origination rates through geological time

James W. Kirchner, Anne Weil

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Recent analyses have suggested that extinction and origination rates exhibit long-range correlations, implying that the fossil record may be controlled by self-organized criticality or other scale-free internal dynamics of the biosphere. Here we directly test for correlations in the fossil record by calculating the autocorrelation of the extinction and origination rates through time. Our results show that extinction rates are uncorrelated beyond the average duration of a stratigraphic interval. Thus, they lack the long-range correlations predicted by the self-organized criticality hypothesis. In contrast, origination rates show strong autocorrelations due to long-term trends. After detrending, origination rates generally show weak positive correlations at lags of 5-10 million years (Myr) and weak negative correlations at lags of 10-30 Myr, consistent with aperiodic oscillations around their long-term trends. We hypothesize that origination rates are more correlated than extinction rates because originations of new taxa create new ecological niches and new evolutionary pathways for reaching them, thus creating conditions that favour further diversification.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1301-1309
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1450
StatePublished - 7 Jul 2000


  • Autocorrelation
  • Extinction
  • Fossil record
  • Macroevolution
  • Origination
  • Self-organized criticality


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