Recovery After Mass Extinction: Evolutionary Assembly in Large-Scale Biosphere Dynamics
May 1, 2001
Biotic recoveries following mass extinctions are characterized by a process in which whole ecologies are reconstructed from low-diversity systems often characterized by opportunistic groups. The recovery process provides an unexpected window to ecosystem dynamics. In many aspects, recovery is very similar to ecological sucession, but important differences are also apparent linked to the innovative patterns of niche construction observed in the fossil record. In this paper we analyze the similarities and differences between ecological succession and evolutionary recovery to provide a preliminary ecological theory of recoveries. A simple evolutionary model with three trophic levels is presented and its properties (closely resembling those observed in the fossil record) are compared with characteristic patterns of ecological response to disturbances in continuous models of three-level ecosystems.