A Comparison of the Effects of Random and Selective Mass Extinctions on Erosion of Evolutionary History in Communities of Digital Organisms

Gabriel Yedid et al. in PLoS ONE (Open Access)

Gabriel Yedid, Jason Stredwick, Charles A. Ofria and Paul-Michael Agapow

The effect of mass extinctions on phylogenetic diversity and branching history of clades remains poorly understood in paleobiology. We examined the phylogenies of communities of digital organisms undergoing open-ended evolution as we subjected them to instantaneous “pulse” extinctions, choosing survivors at random, and to prolonged “press” extinctions involving a period of low resource availability. We measured age of the phylogenetic root and tree stemminess, and evaluated how branching history of the phylogenetic trees was affected by the extinction treatments. We found that strong random (pulse) and strong selective extinction (press) both left clear long-term signatures in root age distribution and tree stemminess, and eroded deep branching history to a greater degree than did weak extinction and control treatments. The widely-used Pybus-Harvey gamma statistic showed a clear short-term response to extinction and recovery, but differences between treatments diminished over time and did not show a long-term signature. The characteristics of post-extinction phylogenies were often affected as much by the recovery interval as by the extinction episode itself.

May 2012, Volume 7 (5): e37233

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Published Oct. 5, 2012 2:31 PM - Last modified Oct. 8, 2012 2:57 PM