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Evolution. 2016 Dec;70(12):2678-2689. doi: 10.1111/evo.13090. Epub 2016 Nov 9.

Tempo does not correlate with mode in the fossil record.

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  • 1Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis (CEES), Department of Biosciences, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway.


The dominating view of evolution based on the fossil record is that established species remain more or less unaltered during their existence. Substantial evolution is on the other hand routinely reported for contemporary populations, and most quantitative traits show high potential for evolution. These contrasting observations on long- and short-time scales are often referred to as the paradox of stasis, which rests on the fundamental assumption that periods of morphological stasis in the fossil record represent minimal evolutionary change. Investigating 450 fossil time series, I demonstrate that the nonaccumulating morphological fluctuations during stasis travel similar distances in morphospace compared to lineages showing directional change. Hence, lineages showing stasis are commonly undergoing considerable amounts of evolution, but this evolution does not accumulate to produce large net evolutionary changes over time. Rates of evolutionary change across modes in the fossil record may be more homogenous than previously assumed and advocated, supporting the claim that substantial evolution is not exclusively or causally linked to the process of speciation. Instead of exemplifying minimal evolution, stasis likely represents information on the dynamics of the adaptive landscape on macroevolutionary time scales, including the persistence of adaptive zones and ecological niches over millions of years.


Adaptive landscape; evolutionary rates; macroevolution; microevolution; punctuated equilibrium; stasis

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