The plant fossil record reflects just two great extinction events



Five great taxonomic extinctions (the so-called ‘Big Five Mass Extinctions’) are widely recognized in life history, at the end of the Ordovician, Frasnian (Late Devonian), Permian, Triassic and Cretaceous. All of them were originally identified in the marine fossil record and have been interpreted as the result of abrupt global environmental changes. Previous evidence has suggested that terrestrial biota were also subjected to ecological disruption during these events, but it is unknown whether they suffered the same level of large-scale taxonomic disruption as marine organisms. Here we show that the plant fossil record in fact only provides evidence of two mass taxonomic extinction events, one through the Carboniferous-Permian transition, the other during middle-late Permian times. This differs significantly from the mass extinctions recognized in the marine realm and suggests that vascular plants have a special capacity for surviving abrupt environmental changes.