March 2005
Scientific Computing World;Mar/Apr2005, Issue 81, p7
This article reports on the computer analysis performed by researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California in Berkeley in 2005, regarding the fossil records of marine animals over the past 542 years. The analysis has shown that biodiversity appears to rise and fall in cycles of 62 million years. What we are seeing is a real and very strong signal, but nothing in present evolutionary theory accounts for it, said physicist Richard Muller. While this signal has a huge presence in biodiversity, it can also be seen in both extinctions and originations. Muller and his graduate student Robert Rohde discovered the 62 million year fossil diversity cycle after creating a computerized version of an exhaustive database compiled by the late paleontologist Jack Sepkoski. Entitled Compendium of Fossil Marine Animal Genera, Sepkoski's posthumously published database is the most complete reference available for the study of biodiversity and extinctions. It covers the Phanerozoic aeon, during which multicellular organisms left abundant fossil records in rocks; uses genera, the level above species in taxonomy, because genera classifications are more manageable and less often revised than species classifications; and includes only marine fossils because the records are longer and better preserved than records of land fossils.


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