Extinction: Late Ordovician Mass Extinction


The Late Ordovician mass extinction was one of the five outstanding mass extinctions in Earth history. It was caused by environmental changes linked to exceptionally large climatic shifts and resulted in a massive elimination of species, but no major lasting changes in ecological structure or evolutionary direction.

Keywords: ordovician; extinction; ecology; glaciation

Figure 1.

Changes in diversity across the two phases of the Late Ordovician mass extinction. Numbers in bold accompanying each group are the estimated generic diversity before and after the mass extinction (slightly modified from Sepkoski, ) and the percentages are the amount of generic extinction at each phase of extinction.

Figure 2.

Environmental and biotic changes associated with the Late Ordovician extinction. PDB refers to the international carbonate standard.



Brenchley PJ, Marshall JD, Carden GAF et al. (1994) Bathymetric and isotopic evidence for a short‐lived Late Ordovician glaciation in a greenhouse period. Geology 22: 295–298.

Owen AW and Robertson DBR (1995) Ecological changes during the end‐Ordovician extinction. Modern Geology 20: 21–39.

Sepkoski JJ Jr (1995) The Ordovician radiations: diversification and extinction shown by global genus‐level taxonomic data. In: Cooper JC, Droser ML and Finney SC (eds) Ordovician Odyssey: Short Papers of the Seventh International Symposium on the Ordovician System, pp. 393–396. Fullerton: Pacific Section, Society of Sedimentary Geology (SEPM).

Sheehan PM (1988) Late Ordovician events and the terminal Ordovician extinction. New Mexico Bureau of Mines and Mineral Resources Memoir 44: 405–415.

Wilde P, Quinby‐Hunt MA and Berry WBN (1990) Vertical advections from oxic or anoxic water from the main pycnocline as a cause of rapid extinctions or rapid radiations. In: Kauffman EG and Walliser OH (eds) Extinction Events in Earth History, Lecture Notes in Earth Sciences 30, pp. 85–98. Berlin: Springer‐Verlag.

Further Reading

Armstrong HA (1995) High‐resolution biostratigraphy (conodonts and graptolites) of the Upper Ordovician and Lower Silurian – evaluation of the Late Ordovician mass extinction. Modern Geology 20: 41–68.

Berry WBN, Quinby‐Hunt MS and Wilde P (1995) Impact of Late Ordovician glaciation on marine life. In: Stanley SM (ed.) Effects of Past Global Change on Marine Life, pp. 34–46. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Brenchley PJ (1989) The late Ordovician extinction. In: Donovan SK (ed.) Mass Extinctions: Processes and Evidence, pp. 104–132. New York: Columbia University Press.

Brenchley PJ, Carden GAF and Marshall JD (1995) Environmental changes associated with the ‘first strike’ of the late Ordovician mass extinction. Modern Geology 20: 69–82.

Hallam A and Wignall PB (1997) Mass Extinctions and Their Aftermath. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Harper DAT and Rong Jia‐yu R (1995) Patterns of changes in the brachiopod faunas through the Ordovician–Silurian interface. Modern Geology 20: 83–100.

Melchin MJ and Mitchell CE (1991) Late Ordovician extinction in the Graptoloidea. In: Barnes CR and Williams SH (eds) Advances in Ordovician Geology, pp. 143–156. Ottawa: Geological Survey of Canada, Paper 90–9.

Sheehan PM and Coorough PJ (1990) Brachiopod zoogeography across the Ordovician–Silurian extinction event. In: McKerrow WS and Scoteses CR (eds) Palaeozoic Palaeogeography and Biogeography, pp. 181–187. London: Geological Society of London, Memoir 12.

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How to Cite close
Brenchley, Patrick John(May 2001) Extinction: Late Ordovician Mass Extinction. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1038/npg.els.0001652]