What Killed the Dinosaurs? A comparative extinction selectivity investigation

Machine learning algorithms are rarely utilized in paleontological research, but these algorithms can be used to identify determinants of extinction as well as predicting extinction risk, e.g., key example is the Titanic dataset (www.kaggle.com/titanic), which is used to train data scientists in predicting survivorship from the metadata of passenger information (e.g., gender, wealth, age). This application of decision tree algorithms is important because the ecological selectivity of mass extinctions can reveal critical information on organismic traits as key determinants of extinction and hence the causes of extinction.

What killed the dinosaurs? is one of the biggest questions in palaeontological research and on the lips of large number of children. It has been hotly debated for decades that a meteorite wiped them out, but an opposing body of scientists have argued that it was actually climate change that drove dinosaurs to extinction. A bolide impact is only hypothesised to have cause one mass extinction event, whereas climate change has been known to have played an active role in four other mass extinction events. One way we can test if the Dinosaur extinction was caused by something other than climate change, would be to investigate if the extinction selectivity was unique or if it shares a similar trend to other mass extinctions driven by climate change.This project is based on paleontological data collected from around the world and will explore machine learning methods (Fig. 1), and possibly multivariate statistics, to investigate extinction selectivity for three mass extinction events: end-Permian, end-Triassic, and the end-Cretaceous (Dinosaur extinction). The selectivity patterns will then be compared to see if the dinosaur extinction was unique and, therefore, best explained by something other than climate change, i.e., meteorite.

The data is a spreadsheet of all known marine fossils from the rock record that are known to have existed at the same time as each extinction event. Each fossil includes information on its taxonomic identification, location that it was collected, age, geological metadata, and seven ecological attributes.From the geological data additional data can be generated, for example geographic range for each species.

Contact person

William Foster (william.foster@ucd.ie)