Ecologically diverse clades dominate the oceans via extinction resistance

Ecological differentiation is correlated with taxonomic diversity in many clades, and ecological divergence is often assumed to be a cause and/or consequence of high speciation rate. However, an analysis of 30,074 genera of living marine animals and 19,992 genera of fossil marine animals indicates that greater ecological differentiation in the modern oceans is actually associated with lower rates of origination over evolutionary time. Ecologically differentiated clades became taxonomically diverse over time because they were better buffered against extinction, particularly during mass extinctions, which primarily affected genus-rich, ecologically homogeneous clades. The relationship between ecological differentiation and taxonomic richness was weak early in the evolution of animals but has strengthened over geological time as successive extinction events reshaped the marine fauna.