Theory in Biosciences

, Volume 128, Issue 2, pp 75–83 | Cite as

Longevity of orders is related to the longevity of their constituent genera rather than genus richness

  • Stefan BornholdtEmail author
  • Kim Sneppen
  • Hildegard Westphal
Original Paper


Longevity of a taxonomic group is an important issue in understanding the dynamics of evolution. In this respect a key observation is that genera, families or orders can each be assigned a characteristic average lifetime (Van Valen in Evol Theory 1:1–30, 1973). Using the fossil marine animal genera database (Sepkoski in Bull Am Paleontol 363, pp 563, 2002) we here examine the relationship between longevity of a higher taxonomic group (orders) and the longevity of its lower taxonomic groups (genera). We find insignificant correlation between the size of an order and its longevity, whereas we observe large correlation between the lifetime of an order and the lifetime of its constituent genera. These observations suggest that longevity of taxonomic groups is heritable intrinsically or on the grounds of environmental preferences.


Taxonomic Group Fossil Record Mass Extinction Average Lifetime High Taxon 
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The authors thank Sergei Maslov for stimulating discussions and comments. Thanks are extended to Eric Holman, Michal Kowalewski, and David Raup for thorough reviews of earlier versions of this paper. Support from the Danish National Research Foundation through the Center Models of Life at the Niels Bohr Institute and the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at UC Santa Barbara is gratefully acknowledged.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stefan Bornholdt
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kim Sneppen
    • 2
  • Hildegard Westphal
    • 3
  1. 1.Institut für Theoretische PhysikUniversität BremenBremenGermany
  2. 2.Niels Bohr InstituteCopenhagenDenmark
  3. 3.MARUM und Fachbereich Geowissenschaften, Universität BremenBremenGermany

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