PLoS By Category | Recent PLoS Articles

Computer Science - Ecology

A Comparison of the Effects of Random and Selective Mass Extinctions on Erosion of Evolutionary History in Communities of Digital Organisms
Published: Thursday, May 31, 2012
Author: Gabriel Yedid et al.

by Gabriel Yedid, Jason Stredwick, Charles A. Ofria, Paul-Michael Agapow

The effect of mass extinctions on phylogenetic diversity and branching history of clades remains poorly understood in paleobiology. We examined the phylogenies of communities of digital organisms undergoing open-ended evolution as we subjected them to instantaneous “pulse” extinctions, choosing survivors at random, and to prolonged “press” extinctions involving a period of low resource availability. We measured age of the phylogenetic root and tree stemminess, and evaluated how branching history of the phylogenetic trees was affected by the extinction treatments. We found that strong random (pulse) and strong selective extinction (press) both left clear long-term signatures in root age distribution and tree stemminess, and eroded deep branching history to a greater degree than did weak extinction and control treatments. The widely-used Pybus-Harvey gamma statistic showed a clear short-term response to extinction and recovery, but differences between treatments diminished over time and did not show a long-term signature. The characteristics of post-extinction phylogenies were often affected as much by the recovery interval as by the extinction episode itself.