Vital Variation

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Science  11 Jan 2013:
Vol. 339, Issue 6116, pp. 120
DOI: 10.1126/science.339.6116.120-b

It is increasingly recognized that we are in the midst of a sixth mass extinction due to a suite of anthropogenic activities. How different species respond to these changes is varied. González-Suárez and Revilla ask whether there are clear patterns in susceptibility to extinction among mammals, using the database panTHERIA, which consists of data on over 4400 mammalian species. They examined morphological, ecological, and life-history traits as they relate to the threat of extinction. As might be expected, species with lower densities and slower rates of reproduction and maturation, such as larger mammals, experienced a greater risk of decline. However, greater variation in traits such as body size and litter size, among others, was associated with reduced risk of extinction, regardless of body size. This suggests that species that maintain variability at the population level may be better able to adapt to changing environmental conditions. These results can inform conservation efforts across an array of species and emphasize the importance of protecting natural variation in all its forms.

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