Mass Extinction Web Sites

Extinction Events. Wikipedia. Online encyclopedia article on extinctions. Good descriptions of the main mass extinctions and possible causes for each, as well as a summary of the evidence for extinction cycles.

When Life Nearly Came to an End , National Geographic. Short description of article about the end-of-Permian extinction, with a picture gallery and a map of the supercontinent Pangea.

The Day the Earth Nearly Died , BBC Science. Summary of the theory that increased vulcanism in the Siberian Traps (the largest volcanic outpouring of all time) and subsequent climate change was the primary cause of the end-of-Permian extinction.

25 years of mass extinctions and impacts: Lucas, S., Geotimes. Easy to read, short discussion of the history of the concept of mass extinctions, followed by summaries of the “Big 5” mass extinctions and their possible causes.

Mass Extinction Web Sites: Some key references (technical articles)

There is a vast amount of research on this mass extinctions. The following is a short list of some important and/or interesting research papers. You may be able to get these online through JSTOR, Science Direct or other online technical journal searches, or you may be able to get them through interlibrary loans

  • Benton, M.J., 1995, Diversification and extinction in the history of life: Science, v. 268, p. 52-58. Highlights the exponential growth in fossil diversity through time punctuated by mass extinctions including the “Big 5.”
  • Hallam, A., and Wignall, P.B., 1999, Mass extinctions and sea-level changes: Earth Science Reviews, v. 48, no. 4, p. 217-250. Reviews the coincidence of the big five mass extinctions and several lesser extinction events with large eustatic (sea-level) inflexions (mostly regressions or global falls in sea level) caused by glaciation, doming and volcanism, or other mechanisms.
  • Jablonski, D., 1989, The biology of mass extinction: A paleontological view: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B, Biological Sciences, v. 325, no. 1128, Evolution and Extinction, p. 357-368. Compares and examines patterns of evolution during normal background rates vs. those that occur during mass extinctions. Indicates that mass extinctions provide opportunities for diversification of taxa that were not abundant prior to the mass extinction.
  • Newell, N. D., 1963, Crises in the history of life: Scientific American, v. 208, no. 2, p. 77-92. A study of fossil families that determined there were at least six (included the “Big 5”), relatively sudden extinction events in earth history, rather than gradualistic evolution and extinction. This research was largely ignored until the Alvarez’s impact theory brought scientific and public attention to mass extinctions.
  • Newell, N.D., 1967, Revolutions in the history of life: Geological Society of America Special Publication no. 89, p. 63–91 A follow-up to his 1963 publication that noted 6 large extinction events from the marine fossil record (including the Big 5) and demonstrated that they corresponded to major sea-level changes (mostly regressions or global falls in sea level). A mechanism was proposed that marine species extinction occurred through draining of the shallow marine shelves during sea-level falls.
  • Raup, D.M., 1986, Biological extinction in earth history: Science, v. 231, p. 1528-1533. Examines the periodicity and evolutionary significance of mass extinctions.
  • Raup, D.M., and Sepkoski, J., Jr., 1982, Mass extinctions in the marine fossil record: Science, v. 215, p. 1501-1503. Graphically shows the changes in the numbers of different types of marine fossils through time, highlighting several sudden, and dramatic decreases (extinctions) in marine fossils at the end of the Ordovician, (Devonian), Permian, Triassic, and Cretaceous periods that identify mass extinctions. This study is widely used in subsequent studies of mass extinctions.
  • Sepkoski, J.J., 1998, Rates of speciation in the fossil record: Royal Society, Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences, v. 353, no. 1366, p. 315-326 Discusses the variation of marine species through time. Includes an interesting figure that graphs the percent of new types of marine creatures (speciation) through time, essentially showing the radiations at the beginning of the Cambrian Period and following extinction events, including the “Big 5” mass extinctions, as well as a now-famous figure of the diversification and extinction of three major faunal groupings through time. Discusses various sources of large-scale variation in speciation including time, geography, and climate.
  • Sepkoski, J.J., 2001, Mass extinctions, concepts of, in Levin, S.A., Encyclopedia of Biodiversity: Academic Press, v. 4, p. 97-110. A historical review of the concept of extinctions; abrupt vs. gradual vs. step-wise extinctions; fossils as evidence for interpreting extinctions; interpreting the magnitudes of extinctions; types of victims and survivors; recovery from extinctions; and modern biodiversity crisis.
  • Simpson, G.G., 1985, Extinction: Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, v. 129, no. 4, p. 407-416. Summary of the historical ideas surrounding the conceptual idea of “extinction” from the ancient Greeks, to Lamark and Cuvier, to Darwin.
  • Wignall, P.B., 2001, Large igneous provinces and mass extinctions: Earth Science Reviews, v.53, no. 1-2, p. 1-33.Examines the coincidence in timing of several large extinction events with the formation of large igneous provinces (which represent periods of large volcanism). Six of eleven large igneous provinces coincide with evidence for global warming and marine anoxia, and this paper hypothesizes that volcanic CO2 emissions have a profound effect on the carbon cycle and global climate.

Compilations of multiple research papers in single volumes

  • Koeberl, C., and MacLeod, K.G., eds., 2002, Catastrophic events and mass extinctions: impacts and beyond: Geological Society of America, Special Publication no. 356, 746 p. This volume contains 56 short research papers on mass extinctions. Twenty-six of the papers concern the Cretaceous-Tertiary (Paleogene) extinction.
  • Sharpton, V.L., and Ward, P.D., eds., 1990, Global catastrophes in earth history: an interdisciplinary conference on impacts, volcanism, and mass mortality: Geological Society of America, Special Publication no. 247, 631 p. This volume contains 58 short research papers on mass extinctions. Twenty-five of the papers concern the Cretaceous-Tertiary (Paleogene) extinction, and 13 papers concern meteor and comet impacts as causes of extinctions.


  • Benton, M.J., 2003, When life nearly died: The greatest mass extinction of all time: New York, Thames and Hudson, 336 p. This book examines the history of the Permian Period, gradualistic vs. catastrophic views of earth history, how the impact theory brought back the catastrophic view, how mass extinctions are determined, the timing of the Permian mass extinction, and the types of life that went extinct. The book evaluates various theories for the Late Permian extinction and discusses the possible modern 6th extinction event.
  • Hallam, A., and Wignall, P.B., 1997, Mass extinctions and their aftermath: Oxford, Oxford University Press, 330 p. This book summarizes how mass extinctions are defined, the timing of extinctions, terminology, and tools used to determine aspects of past geology, paleontology, climate, and chemistry so that causes can be investigated. A series of extinctions, including the “Big 5” mass extinctions, are reviewed. For each clues are provided, possible causes analyzed (strengths and weaknesses), the aftermath of the events are discussed.
  • Hallam, A., 2004, Catastrophes and lesser calamities: The cause of mass extinctions: New York, Oxford University Press, 274 p. This book examines the historical background of mass extinctions, and evidence for catastrophes, such as comets and meteor impacts, sea level change, anoxia, climate change, volcanic activity, and in the present time; human activity. Data from major mass extinctions are used to infer a common association of volcanism, climate change, and anoxia. The evolutionary significance of mass extinctions and modern human influences on extinction are also discussed.
  • Ward, P.D., 2007, Under a green sky: Global warming, the mass extinctions of the past, and what they mean for our future: New York, Smithsonian Books/Collins, 242 p. This book discusses the relation between mass extinctions and the carbon cycle. It examines the history of hypotheses and arguments for the various extinction theories that have been proposed since the meteor impact theory was first proposed. The author then infers that climate change was a major causes of “greenhouse” extinctions through time; regardless of the underlying causes for the climate change.


Last Modified on 2023-01-05
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