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Science. 1982 Mar 19;215(4539):1501-3.

Mass extinctions in the marine fossil record.


A new compilation of fossil data on invertebrate and vertebrate families indicates that four mass extinctions in the marine realm are statistically distinct from background extinction levels. These four occurred late in the Ordovician, Permian, Triassic, and Cretaceous periods. A fifth extinction event in the Devonian stands out from the background but is not statistically significant in these data. Background extinction rates appear to have declined since Cambrian time, which is consistent with the prediction that optimization of fitness should increase through evolutionary time.

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