Research From Yale Urges Scientists to Focus on Species Rarity Versus Species Extinction

By: | February 20th, 2016

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New research conducted by Yale University scientists urges biological and eco-scientists to shift their focus from species extinction to species rarity. This will help them to recognize, isolate, and avoid events that result in mass extinction of entire species. Pincelli Hull and his colleagues from the Smithsonian Institution state that modern extinction levels are poor evidence if we want to gather data on any future mass eradication event.

The best way to predict if the modern ecosystem is facing annihilation of any particular variety is that biology scientists should focus on the changes in ecosystems and species. Earth has experienced several mass extinction events, and the resulting diversity of flora and fauna has made scientists realize that a small change can bring about a larger chain of events. Earth has experienced “Five Mass Extinction” stages, and according to Elizabeth Kolbert, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Sixth Extinction, the planet is entering the next stage.

Hull, who is the lead researcher of the study said, “I am an extinction scientist. In my research I dissect past extinctions to work out what occurred and why. The idea of being able to pin down whether we are in a sixth mass extinction, based on extinction rates measured today, was absolutely astounding to me. It implied a deep mechanistic and predictive understanding of how mass extinctions unfold that I wasn’t sure we actually had.”

Wiki Commons

Wiki Commons

Co-authors Simon Darroch and Douglas Erwin contend that the extinction of any species is preceded by their rarity, which can result in modified ecological systems. The previously abundant animal groups or classes are now rare, and the ecosystem analysis is enough to drive massive transformation in the biosphere. The rarity of an animal kind is dependent upon the widespread change in the ecological system, and the magnitude and extent of rarity can be predicted for comparing the existent biotic crisis with the past.

Regarding the subject of comparison, Darroch said, “Ecology tells us that ecosystems can collapse completely on timescales ranging from 100 to 10,000 years, which is a process that typically isn’t preserved in the fossil record, so we simply don’t have a good idea of what these transitional ecosystems look like. Figuring out how mass rarity in a wide range of species in today’s oceans may scale up to a mass extinction on longer timescales is one of the great scientific challenges of our generation.”

The researchers pointed out the fact that the previously abundant genus in the ocean has now decreased to “Ghost Species,” which proves their point that the rarity of an animal can help predict their extinction. The authors also noted that the present era of human civilization doesn’t have a fossil record, and it is still yet to be written.

The author further said, “The ecological ghosts of oceans past already swim in emptied seas. There are steps to take to avoid a mass extinction-like record, even if there are signs of it. This makes it all the more urgent to act early to protect ecosystems and restore once-abundant species.”

Paul Cook

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