Understanding what drives global diversity requires knowledge of the processes that control diversity and turnover at a variety of geographic and temporal scales. This is of particular importance in the study of mass extinctions, which have disproportionate effects on the global ecosystem and have been shown to vary geographically in extinction magnitude and rate of recovery.
Here, we analyze regional diversity and turnover patterns for the paleocontinents of Laurentia, Baltica, and Avalonia spanning the Late Ordovician mass extinction and Early Silurian recovery. Using a database of genus occurrences for inarticulate and articulate brachiopods, bivalves, anthozoans, and trilobites, we show that sampling-standardized diversity trends differ for the three regions. Diversity rebounded to pre-extinction levels within 5 Myr in the paleocontinent of Laurentia, compared with 15 Myr or longer for Baltica and Avalonia. This increased rate of recovery in Laurentia was due to both lower Late Ordovician extinction rates and higher Early Silurian origination rates relative to the other continents. Using brachiopod data, we dissected the Rhuddanian recovery into genus origination and invasion. This analysis revealed that standing diversity in the Rhuddanian consisted of a higher proportion of invading taxa in Laurentia than in either Baltica or Avalonia. Removing invading genera from diversity counts caused Rhuddanian diversity to fall in Laurentia. However, Laurentian diversity still rebounded to pre-extinction levels within 10 Myr of the extinction event, indicating that genus origination rates were also higher in Laurentia than in either Baltica or Avalonia. Though brachiopod diversity in Laurentia was lower than in the higher-latitude continents prior to the extinction, increased immigration and genus origination rates made it the most diverse continent following the extinction. Higher rates of origination in Laurentia may be explained by its large size, paleogeographic location, and vast epicontinental seas. It is possible that the tropical position of Laurentia buffered it somewhat from the intense climatic fluctuations associated with the extinction event, reducing extinction intensities and allowing for a more rapid rebound in this region. Hypotheses explaining the increased levels of invasion into Laurentia remain largely untested and require further scrutiny. Nevertheless, the Late Ordovician mass extinction joins the Late Permian and end-Cretaceous as global extinction events displaying an underlying spatial complexity.