Mass extinctions affect the history of life by decimating existing diversity and ecological structure and creating new evolutionary and ecological pathways. Both the loss of diversity during these events and the rebound in diversity following extinction had a profound effect on Phanerozoic evolutionary trends. Phylogenetic trees can be used to robustly assess the evolutionary implications of extinction and origination.
We examine both extinction and origination during the Late Ordovician mass extinction. This mass extinction was the second largest in terms of taxonomic loss but did not appear to radically alter Paleozoic marine assemblages. We focus on the brachiopod order Strophomenida, whose evolutionary relationships have been recently revised, to explore the disconnect between the processes that drive taxonomic loss and those that restructure ecological communities.
Apossible explanation for this disconnect is if extinction and origination were random with respect to morphology. We define morphospace using principal coordinates analysis (PCO) of character data from 61 Ordovician–Devonian taxa and their 45 ancestral nodes, defined by a most parsimonious reconstruction in Mesquite. A bootstrap of the centroid of PCO values indicates that genera were randomly removed from morphospace by the Late Ordovician mass extinction, and new Silurian genera were clustered within a smaller previously unoccupied region of morphospace. Diversification remained morphologically constrained throughout the Silurian and into the Devonian. This suggests that the recovery from the Late Ordovician mass extinction resulted in a long-term shift in strophomenide evolution. More broadly, recovery intervals may hold clues to understanding the evolutionary impact of mass extinctions.