We grouped the fossil records of marine animal genera into suites defined by function and physiology. The stratigraphic coherence of the resulting diversity history indicates the importance of ecological structure in constraining taxonomic richness through time. The proportional representation of major functional groups was stably maintained for intervals as long as 200 million years, despite evolutionary turnover and changes in total diversity. Early Paleozoic radiations established stable ecosystem relationships, and thereafter only the great era-bounding mass extinctions were able to break patterns of incumbency, permitting the emergence of new community structures with distinct proportional diversity relationships.
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