Nonrandom Extinction and the Loss of Evolutionary History

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Science  14 Apr 2000:
Vol. 288, Issue 5464, pp. 328-330
DOI: 10.1126/science.288.5464.328

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The hierarchical nature of phylogenies means that random extinction of species affects a smaller fraction of higher taxa, and so the total amount of evolutionary history lost may be comparatively slight. However, current extinction risk is not phylogenetically random. We show the potentially severe implications of the clumped nature of threat for the loss of biodiversity. An additional 120 avian and mammalian genera are at risk compared with the number predicted under random extinction. We estimate that the prospective extra loss of mammalian evolutionary history alone would be equivalent to losing a monotypic phylum.

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