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Mass extinction


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Usually, extinction operates at a fairly constant rate, culling some species while speciation generates new ones. However, at a few points in life's history the humdrum of regular extinction has been interrupted by mass extinctions. Learn more about these biodiversity crises.

UC Museum of Paleontology

Grade level:

30 min

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.

  • Human influence may be causing a modern mass extinction.

  • Extinctions may create opportunities for further evolution in other lineages to occur.

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

  • Scientists use physical, chemical, and geological evidence and comparative anatomy to establish the age of fossils.

Teacher background:

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