Are mass extinctions random events that randomly kill, or do the traits of species enhance their chances of survival? Previous research had shown that most mass extinctions do not involve any selectivity, and only a select number of traits appear to help species cross mass extinction barriers, such as range size. Indeed, one definition of mass extinctions is that they are not selective, but a more nuanced view is that the 'rules' of extinction during background times breakdown.
Of the 'big 5' extinction events, I am interested in the biggest of all time: the end-Permian. Over 90% of species were killed in this massive extinction, over a geologically-short time period. This end-Permian extinction has had large effects on the evolution of life, and although the causes are complex, global warming appears to have played a key role. Therefore, this event still has implications life today.
I aim to answer these questions on selectivity and evolution in response to mass extinctions using comparative phylogenetics, which have been widely used in ecology and evolution on extant species. However, very few previous studies have seeked to correct for 'phylogenetic correction' - the way in which closely related species are more similar than by chance, due to their shared ancestry - when assessing the selectivity of mass extinctions. In any comparative method it is important to correct for this factor, but comparative phylogenetics also allow for an exploration of the tempo and mode of evolution surrounding extinction events.
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