Earth and Life pp 535-555 | Cite as

Quantitative Approach to Diversity and Decline in Late Palaeozoic Trilobites

  • Rudy Lerosey-AubrilEmail author
  • Raimund Feist
Part of the International Year of Planet Earth book series (IYPE)


Quantitative data reveal complex evolution in late trilobite diversity. In the Middle to early Late Devonian, a series of extinction events led to dramatic taxonomic impoverishment of the trilobites. In the Famennian, when only two orders remained, originations began to compensate for the still high extinction rates, marking the start of a remarkable diversification. Although interrupted by the major Hangenberg turnover, the general diversification trend accelerated in the Tournaisian, whereas extinctions became modest. Originations diminished markedly during the Viséan and Serphukovian, causing this diversity to decrease to the level observed in the Frasnian. It was never much higher thereafter, despite massive restructuring of the trilobite communities in the early Pennsylvannian; this allowed for progressive domination of the ditomopygines. After another decline in the Kasimovian, a period of stasis occurred with very low diversity levels and almost no renewal. The last burst of diversification occurred in the Wordian, but ceased rapidly in the Capitanian when degradation of environmental conditions began to inhibit originations. Thus, extinction of the Trilobita at the end of the Permian resulted from disappearance of merely a handful of genera.


Trilobites Devonian-Permian extinctions Quantitative analysis Early Devonian diversity peak Mid-Devonian–Frasnian decrease Famennian–Tournaisian diversity acceleration Viséan–Serpukhovian marked diversity decrease Last diversification Wordian Decreasing diversity Capitanian to end-Permian total extinction 



Many people have generously helped us gather the literature required to create the database used in this study; we are very grateful to all of them. We especially thank Martin Basse (Forschungsinstitute Senckenberg), Carsten Brauckmann (Technischen Universität Clausthal), James Cook, Gerhard Hahn, and Thomas A. Hegna (Yale University) for kind assistance in this regard. We are also indebted to Euan N.K. Clarkson and an anonymous referee for helpful comments and to the editor, John Talent, for major linguistic improvements in our text. This is a contribution of the Senckenberg Forschungsinstitut und Naturmuseum (Frankfurt am Main) and UMR 5554, CNRS (Montpellier) to IGCP Project 596 “Climate change and biodiversity patterns in the Mid-Palaeozoic (Early Devonian to Late Carboniferous)”.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Senckenberg Forschungsinstitut und Naturmuseum FrankfurtFrankfurt am MainGermany
  2. 2.Laboratoire de Paléontologie, Institut des Sciences de l’EvolutionUniversité Montpellier IIMontpellierFrance

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