Through detailed analysis of patterns in the fossil record, scientist David Jablonski reconstructs the rules that helped dictate who lived and died in past mass extinctions. This research profile describes his surprising discoveries and their disturbing implications for the biodiversity crisis today.
UC Museum of Paleontology
This article challenges stereotypes of paleontologists and the misconception that hypotheses about past events cannot be tested. For an advanced biology course, the side trip on levels of selection will provide a new way to look at natural selection. This research profile includes discussion and essay questions that can be assigned to students. Get tips for using research profiles in your classroom.
Correspondence to the Next Generation Science Standards is indicated in parentheses after each relevant concept. See our conceptual framework for details.
- During the course of evolution, only a small percentage of species have survived until today.
- Background extinctions are a normal occurrence.
- Mass extinctions occur.
- Rates of extinction vary.
- Extinction can result from environmental change.
- The fossil record documents the biodiversity of the past.
- The fossil record documents patterns of extinction and the appearance of new forms.
- Random factors can affect the survival of individuals and of populations.
- Scientific knowledge is open to question and revision as we come up with new ideas and discover new evidence.
- A hallmark of science is exposing ideas to testing.
- Scientists test their ideas using multiple lines of evidence.
- Scientists use multiple research methods (experiments, observational research, comparative research, and modeling) to collect data.
- Scientists can test ideas about events and processes long past, very distant, and not directly observable.
- The real process of science is complex, iterative, and can take many different paths.
- Science is a human endeavor.
- As with other scientific disciplines, evolutionary biology has applications that factor into everyday life, for example in agriculture, biodiversity and conservation biology, and medicine and health.
- Scientists use fossils (including sequences of fossils showing gradual change over time) to learn about past life.