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  Extinction (Latin, ‘being wiped out’) is the disappearance of all members of a formerly living species. It was aknowledged by early palaeontologists who found fossil remains which were clearly dissimilar to extant species of the known world. Most scientists and laypeople believed, up to the 19th century, that extinction was impossible because all living organisms were in the care of God. In the 19th century it became clear, with the reconstruction of dinosaur remains, that extinction was a fact; many put this down to catastrophies such as flooding and accepted that this implied that the number of species on Earth was in steady decline. When Charles Darwin proposed a mechanism for the formation of new species it was explained how this process would render others uncompetitive and thus liable to gradual extinction. RB

See also evolution; fitness; natural selection; speciation.



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