Tony Hallam's contributions to mass extinction studies span more than 50 years and this thematic issue provides an opportunity to pay tribute to the many pioneering contributions he has made to this field. Early work (1961) on the Jurassic in Europe revealed a link, during the Toarcian Stage, between extinction and the spread of anoxic waters during transgression – the first time such a common leitmotif had been identified. He also identified substantial sea-level changes during other mass extinction intervals with either regression (end-Triassic) or early transgression (end-Permian) coinciding with the extinction phases. Hallam's (1981) study on bivalves was also the first to elevate the status of the end-Triassic crisis and place it amongst true mass extinctions, changing previous perceptions that it was a part of a protracted period of turnover, although debates on the duration of this crisis continue (Hallam, 2002). Conflicting views on the nature of recovery from mass extinctions have also developed, especially for the aftermath of the end-Permian mass extinction. These discussions can be traced to Hallam's seminal 1991 paper that noted the considerable delay in benthic recovery during Early Triassic time and attributed it to the persistence of the harmful, high-stress conditions responsible for the extinction itself. This idea now forms the cornerstone of one of the more favoured explanations for this ultra-low diversity interval.