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Fossil records show biodiversity comes and goes

"My hunch, far from proven," Rohde said, "is that every 62 million years the earth is releasing a burst of heat in the form of a plume formation event, and that when those plumes reach the surface they result in a major episode of flood volcanism. Such volcanism certainly has the potential to cause extinctions, but, right now there isn't enough geologic evidence to know whether flood basalts or plumes have been recurring at the right frequency."

In examining their results, Muller and Rohde found that the fossil diversity cycle is most evident when only short-lived genera (those that survived less than 45 million years) are considered. They also found that some organisms seem to be immune to the cycle, while others are exceptionally sensitive. For example, corals, sponges, arthropods and trilobites follow the cycle, but fish, squid and snails do not. In general, longer-lived genera that are more diverse and widespread stand a better chance of resisting the 62 million year cycle.

Muller and Rohde also found a second, less pronounced diversity cycle of 140 million years.

"The 140 million year cycle is also strong, but we see only four oscillations in our 542 million year record," Muller said. "This means there is some chance that it could be accidental, rather than driven by some external mechanism."

If it is real, the 140 million year fossil diversity cycle could be tied to a reported 140 million year cycle in Ice Ages. Said Rohde, "It is also possible that this 140 million year fossil diversity cycle is driven by passage through the arms of the Milky Way galaxy".


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Contact: Lynn Yarris
lcyarris@lbl.gov
510-486-5375
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
14-Mar-2005


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