Near the end of the Late Ordovician, in the first of five mass extinctions in the Phanerozoic, about 85% of marine species died. The cause was a brief glacial interval that produced two pulses of extinction. The first pulse was at the beginning of the glaciation, when sea-level decline drained epicontinental seaways, produced a harsh climate in low and mid-latitudes, and initiated active, deep-oceanic currents that aerated the deep oceans and brought nutrients and possibly toxic material up from oceanic depths. Following that initial pulse of extinction, surviving faunas adapted to the new ecologic setting. The glaciation ended suddenly, and as sea level rose, the climate moderated, and oceanic circulation stagnated, another pulse of extinction occurred. The second extinction marked the end of a long interval of ecologic stasis (an Ecologic-Evolutionary Unit). Recovery from the event took several million years, but the resulting fauna had ecologic patterns similar to the fauna that had become extinct. Other extinction events that eliminated similar or even smaller percentages of species had greater long-term ecologic effects.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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