Trends in Ecology and Evolution | VOL. 21
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A cacophony of causes

Publication Date Aug 1, 2006

Abstract

View Large Image | Download PowerPoint SlideHow do you sell a mass extinction without dinosaurs? How about giving it a catchy title, such as the ‘mother of all extinctions’ or ‘the great dying.’ Better yet, find a rock that came from space and identify it as the one that fell to Earth 65 million years at the end of the age of dinosaurs. Too often, the press (and, unfortunately, too many scientists) like neat little stories to explain complex events that transpired eons ago, such as mass extinctions.This aspersion certainly cannot be cast on Doug Erwin's latest contribution (his first book was in 1993) to our current knowledge of the ‘the great dying’ that occurred some 250 million years ago, both slightly before and at the Permian–Triassic boundary, when a staggering 90% of all species might have disappeared. As he phrases it, ‘Life would be much easier if complex events had single causes, but the lessons of history are otherwise’. As an analogy, the author notes how we try too often to find single causes for why civilizations fall.Erwin leads us through the morass of hypotheses for these extinctions. For the most part, he does a good job presenting and weighting data from the more plausible scenarios. To his credit, he is quite dispassionate and evenhanded, but never boring, when dealing with his own pet ideas as well as those of others. Certainly, some readers will be unhappy that he does not single out anoxia, volcanism, impacts and so on, as the cause. But where some might see this as a weakness in Extinction, I see it a...

Concepts

Mass Extinction Single Causes Karoo Desert Permian Triassic Catchy Title Minor Lapses Lessons Of History Vertebrate Paleontologist True Believer Plant Extinction

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