The evolutionary dynamics of the early Palaeozoic marine biodiversity accumulation

The early Palaeozoic Era records the initial biodiversification of the Phanerozoic. The increase in biodiversity involved drastic changes in taxon longevity, and in rates of origination and extinction. Here, we calculate these variables in unprecedented temporal resolution. We find that highly volatile origination and extinction rates are associated with short genus longevities during the Cambrian Period. During the Ordovician and Silurian periods, evolutionary rates were less volatile and genera persisted for increasingly longer intervals. The 90%-genus life expectancy doubled from 5 Myr in the late Cambrian to more than 10 Myr in the Ordovician–Silurian periods. Intervals with widespread ecosystem disruption are associated with short genus longevities during the Cambrian and with exceptionally high longevities during the Ordovician and Silurian periods. The post-Cambrian increase in persistence of genera, therefore, indicates an elevated ability of the changing early Palaeozoic marine ecosystems to sustainably maintain existing genera. This is evidence of a new level of ecosystem resilience which evolved during the Ordovician Period.