Punctuated Equilibria and the Rise of the New Paleobiology

David Sepkoski

in Rereading the Fossil Record

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print April 2012 | ISBN: 9780226748559
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226748580 | DOI:
Punctuated Equilibria and the Rise of the New Paleobiology

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Paleobiology transformed from a loose movement with a fairly uncoordinated set of goals to a bonafide sub-discipline with an active institutional and intellectual agenda. The dynamics of this shift are complex, and involve theoretical, institutional, and pedagogical factors. One of the striking features of the history of paleobiology is the extent to which the movement came to be so closely associated with a few signature theories. Over the time paleobiology emerged as a fairly casual label used to describe a broad approach to an array of questions surrounding the application of fossil data to problems in evolutionary biology. There is a set of practices that can be associated with this approach (such as quantitative analysis, modeling, and ecological/biogeographical theory), there is no unifying theoretical basis for paleobiology, nor did the term “paleobiology” have a distinct disciplinary identity within paleontology. However, paleobiology became closely associated with a prominent theory—known as the theory of punctuated equilibria—and the study of macroevolution as a dominant conceptual framework. Punctuated equilibria have two important roles. First, its invocation of Wrightian stochasticity provided inspiration for a number of studies that more deeply probed the influence of random or nondirectional elements in evolution as seen in the fossil record. Second, it acted as a model of a typoe of paleontology that could break the grip of Darwin's dilemma and could offer a route to bringing paleontology into the mainstream of evolutionary biology.

Keywords: punctuated equilibria; new paleobiology; evolutionary biology; quantitative analysis; ecological theory; biogeographical theory; Wrightian stochasticity; macroevolution; fossil record

Chapter.  18975 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Palaeontology

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