The dry mountain ranges of the Western United States contain rocks dating back 440 to 510 million years, Line to the Ordovician period, and teeming with evidence of tropical marine life.

This rock record provides clues about one of the most significant radiations (periods when existing life-forms gave rise to variations that would eventually) evolve into entirely new species) in the history of marine invertebrates. During this radiation the number of marine biological families increased greatly, and these families included species that would dominate the marine ecosystems of the area for the next 215 million years. Although the radiation spanned tens of millions of years, major changes in many species occurred during a geologically short time span within the radiation and, furthermore, appear to have occurred worldwide, suggesting that external events were major factors in the radiation. And, in fact, there is evidence of major ecological and geological changes during this period: the sea level dropped drastically and mountain ranges were formed, in this instance, rather than leading to large-scale extinctions, these kinds of environmental changes may have resulted in an enriched pattern of habitats and nutrients, which in turn gave rise to the Ordovician radiation, However, the actual relationship between these environmental factors and the diversification of life forms is not yet fully understood


The passage is primarily concerned with


evaluating the evidence of a major geologic period and determining its duration

describing an evolutionary phenomenon and speculating about its cause

explaining the mechanisms through which marine life-forms evolved during a particular period

analyzing the impact on later life-forms of an important evolutionary development

contrasting a period of evolutionary change with other such periods

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