Revolutions and Colonizations in the History of Life

  • Beverly Halstead


The pattern of evolution of life on Earth, as revealed by the fossil record, comprises a number of revolutions, which involved major qualitative changes in the nature of life. Examples include the origin of the eukaryotes by the endosymbiosis of prokaryotes, and the conquest of the land by plants, arthropods and vertebrates. These revolutions made available new environments for life to exploit. With the filling of the available space, when r-selection strategies predominate, life would settle down and natural selection, in particular K-selection strategies, would operate. Major subsequent advances would wait upon the advent of suitable niches becoming available. This was accomplished as a consequence of mass extinctions, invariably followed by major adaptive radiations of the surviving taxa, with r-selection again to the fore. The episodic nature of the fossil record is part of the experience of all paleontologists. Where there is sufficient evidence available, a pattern emerges of gradual evolution (phyletic gradualism), punctuated by short periods where the tempo of evolution is speeded up (punctuated gradualism), in major evolutionary centers. From such centers, there are successive waves of migration to other geographical provinces, which give a spurious impression of evolutionary jumps, observations which superficially provided support for the ephemerally fashionable notion of punctuated equilibria. The immigrant populations establish themselves, flourish but do not evolve, only to become replaced by further waves of new immigrants. The problem of why evolution does not seem to occur in this situation in the newly colonised regions has still not yet been properly addressed. To provide an explanation for such observations remains one of the major challenges for students of evolution.


Fossil Record Mass Extinction Adaptive Radiation Planktonic Foraminifera Gradual Evolution 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Tokyo 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Beverly Halstead
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of GeologyImperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, Royal School of MinesLondonUK

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