Paleontological baselines for evaluating extinction risk in the modern oceans

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Science  01 May 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6234, pp. 567-570
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa6635

Recognizing the threat of additive risk

Humans are accelerating the extinction rates of species in both terrestrial and marine environments. However, species extinctions have occurred across time for a variety of other reasons. Finnegan et al. looked at the extinction rates across marine genera (groups of species) over the past 23 million years to determine intrinsic extinction rates and what traits or regions correspond to the highest rates. Combining patterns of intrinsic extinction with regions of high anthropogenic threat revealed taxa and areas, particularly in the tropics, where the risk of extinction will be especially high.

Science, this issue p. 567


Marine taxa are threatened by anthropogenic impacts, but knowledge of their extinction vulnerabilities is limited. The fossil record provides rich information on past extinctions that can help predict biotic responses. We show that over 23 million years, taxonomic membership and geographic range size consistently explain a large proportion of extinction risk variation in six major taxonomic groups. We assess intrinsic risk—extinction risk predicted by paleontologically calibrated models—for modern genera in these groups. Mapping the geographic distribution of these genera identifies coastal biogeographic provinces where fauna with high intrinsic risk are strongly affected by human activity or climate change. Such regions are disproportionately in the tropics, raising the possibility that these ecosystems may be particularly vulnerable to future extinctions. Intrinsic risk provides a prehuman baseline for considering current threats to marine biodiversity.

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