DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2307629121 ISSN: 0027-8424

Age-dependent extinction and the neutral theory of biodiversity

James G. Saulsbury, C. Tomomi Parins-Fukuchi, Connor J. Wilson, Trond Reitan, Lee Hsiang Liow
  • Multidisciplinary

Red Queen (RQ) theory states that adaptation does not protect species from extinction because their competitors are continually adapting alongside them. RQ was founded on the apparent independence of extinction risk and fossil taxon age, but analytical developments have since demonstrated that age-dependent extinction is widespread, usually most intense among young species. Here, we develop ecological neutral theory as a general framework for modeling fossil species survivorship under incomplete sampling. We show that it provides an excellent fit to a high-resolution dataset of species durations for Paleozoic zooplankton and more broadly can account for age-dependent extinction seen throughout the fossil record. Unlike widely used alternative models, the neutral model has parameters with biological meaning, thereby generating testable hypotheses on changes in ancient ecosystems. The success of this approach suggests reinterpretations of mass extinctions and of scaling in eco-evolutionary systems. Intense extinction among young species does not necessarily refute RQ or require a special explanation but can instead be parsimoniously explained by neutral dynamics operating across species regardless of age.

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