Gradual versus punctuated equilibrium evolution in the Turkana Basin molluscs: evolutionary events or biological invasions?
A running controversy in evolutionary thought was Eldredge and Gould's punctuated equilibrium model, which proposes long periods of morphological stasis interspersed with rapid bursts of dramatic evolutionary change. One of the earliest and most iconic pieces of research in support of punctuated equilibrium is the work of Williamson on the Plio-Pleistocene molluscs of the Turkana Basin. Williamson claimed to have found firm evidence for three episodes of rapid evolutionary change separated by long periods of stasis in a high-resolution sequence. Most of the discussions following this report centered on the topics of (eco)phenotype versus genotype and the possible presence of preservational and temporal artifacts. The debate proved inconclusive, leaving Williamson's reports as one of the empirical foundations of the paradigm of punctuated equilibrium. Here we conclusively show Williamson's original interpretations to be highly flawed. The supposed rapid bursts of punctuated evolutionary change represent artifacts resulting from the invasion of extrabasinal faunal elements in the Turkana palaeolakes during wet phases well known from elsewhere in Africa.