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Species in the Fossil Record: Concepts, Trends, and Transitions

Philip D. Gingerich
Paleobiology
Vol. 11, No. 1 (Winter, 1985), pp. 27-41
Published by: Paleontological Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2400421
Page Count: 15
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Species in the Fossil Record: Concepts, Trends, and Transitions
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Abstract

Morphological continuity in the fossil record is the principal evidence favoring evolution as a historical explanation for the diversity of life. Continuity is usually discussed on scales broader than the species level. Patterns of morphological variation characteristic of living species are useful in recognizing species on time planes in the fossil record, but the fossil record is rarely complete enough temporally or geographically to preserve more than a fraction of species living in a given interval. Transitions between known species are even rarer. Where transitions are preserved, new species appear to arise through anagenesis (transformation of an ancestral stock producing a modified descendant) and through cladogenesis (subdivision of an ancestral lineage where one or more descendants differ from the ancestral stock). Evolutionary species are often necessarily bounded arbitrarily in the dimension of time. Orthogenesis and punctuated equilibrium lie at opposite poles in a spectrum of speciation modes. Orthogenesis, highly constrained anagenesis, is probably rare. Cladogenesis appears to differ little from anagenesis once ancestral stocks are segregated. Limited evidence suggests that morphological differentiation during cladogenesis postdates genetic isolation. Hence punctuated equilibrium may be rare as well. Patterns of gradual change over time indicate that morphological evolution is reasonably viewed as continuous within and between species. Rates of evolution vary greatly (continuity does not require constancy). Rate distributions are truncated and biased by limits of stratigraphic completeness and time resolution: moderate to high rates of morphological evolution and species turnover are rarely recorded by fossils. Species durations are poorly characterized, but they appear to be so variable that there is no suggestion of periodicity. Species longevity is unpredictable. The episodic nature of faunal turnover suggests that extrinsic environmental factors rather than intrinsic homeostatic factors govern evolution at the species level.

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