List of extinction events

widespread and rapid decrease in the amount of life on earth
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An extinction event is a relatively fast drop in the number of species living on Earth. It occurs when the rate of extinction increases more than the rate of speciation. This is a list of the largest. Major extinction events are important to both geology and evolution.[1][2][3]

The Phanerozoic

Marine extinction intensity increases over time. The blue graph shows the apparent percentage (not the absolute number) of marine animal genera becoming extinct during any given time interval. It does not represent all marine species, just those that are readily fossilized.

There are five major extinction events in the Phanerozoic eon, and many smaller events.[3] In order of time, latest first:

1. K/T extinction event. The Cretaceous/Tertiary extinction event ended the Mesozoic era and started the Cainozoic era.[4]

2. End–Triassic extinction event or events.[5][6]

3. P/Tr extinction event. The Permian/Triassic extinction event ended the Palaeozoic era and started the Mesozoic era.[7][8]

4. Late Devonian extinctions, at the Frasnian/Famennian junction.[9]

5. End–Ordovician extinction event. After a series of lesser events, the end-Ordovician extinction resulted in an estimated 84% species loss.[10]

Other extinction events in the Phanerozoic had a significant impact on the evolution of the biota. Overall, it seems that climate changes caused some extinctions, and hits by asteroids sometimes caused extinctions.

Before the Phanerozoic eon, there were even larger extinction events, which are often forgotten:

  • The formation of the moon by a planet-sized body striking the Earth would probably have eliminated any early forms of life.
  • Pre-Palaeozoic ice ages would have been extinction events. They were:


  1. Huggett, Richard J. 1997. Catastrophism. new ed. Verso.
  2. Elewa A.M.T. (ed) 2008. Mass extinctions. Springer, Berlin.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Hallam A. and Wignall P.B. 1997. Mass extinctions and their aftermath. Oxford.
  4. MacLeod N.; et al. (1997). "The Cretaceous–Tertiary biotic transition". Journal of the Geological Society. 154 (2): 265–292. Bibcode:1997JGSoc.154..265M. doi:10.1144/gsjgs.154.2.0265. S2CID 129654916.
  5. Benton M.J. 1991. What really happened in the Late Triassic? Historical biology 5, 263–278.
  6. Benton M.J. 1995. Diversification and extinction in the history of life. Science 268, 52–58.
  7. Benton M.J. 2005. When life nearly died: the greatest mass extinction of all time. Thames & Hudson, London. isbn=978-0500285732
  8. Erwin DH 1993. The great Paleozoic crisis; life and death in the Permian Columbia, N.Y. isbn=0231074670
  9. McGhee, George R. Jr 1996. The Late Devonian mass extinction: the Frasnian/Famennian crisis. Columbia, N.Y. ISBN 0231075049
  10. Jablonski D. 1994. Extinctions in the fossil record. Phil Trans Roy Soc B344, 11–17.