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Radiations and extinctions: Biodiversity through the ages


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This excerpted chapter from Carl Zimmer's book, The Tangled Bank, describes the evolutionary processes responsible for large scale patterns in the diversity of life through time. Reprinted with the permission of Roberts and Company Publishers, Inc.
This resource is available from the National Center for Science Education.

Zimmer, Carl

Grade level:

1.5 hrs

Correspondence to the Next Generation Science Standards is indicated in parentheses after each relevant concept. See our conceptual framework for details.

  • Biological evolution accounts for diversity over long periods of time.

  • Present-day species evolved from earlier species; the relatedness of organisms is the result of common ancestry.

  • Geological change and biological evolution are linked.

  • Rates of evolution vary.

  • Tectonic plate movement has affected the evolution and distribution of living things.

  • Background extinctions are a normal occurrence.

  • Mass extinctions occur.

  • Rates of extinction vary.

  • Extinction can result from environmental change.

  • Human influence may be causing a modern mass extinction.

  • Rates of speciation vary.

  • Evolutionary change can sometimes happen rapidly.

  • Some lineages remain relatively unchanged for long periods of time.

  • The geographic distribution of species often reflects how geologic change has influenced lineage splitting.

  • Speciation is often the result of geographic isolation.

  • Scientists use fossils (including sequences of fossils showing gradual change over time) to learn about past life.

  • Scientists use the geographic distribution of fossils and living things to learn about the history of life.

  • Evolutionary trees can be used to make inferences and predictions.

Teacher background:

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