Meeting: Working Group

Determinants of extinction in ancient and modern seas

Date6-Jul-2011 ~ 9-Jul-2011
ProjectDeterminants of extinction in ancient and modern seas
SummaryThe trajectory of biodiversity is a product of extinction as well as origination, yet extinction is treated as negligible in many evolutionary models of diversification. This discrepancy results from the fact that most “model systems” in evolutionary biology are poorly represented in the fossil record and is exacerbated by limited collaboration between neontologists and paleontologists. Marine environments extend over 70% of the Earth’s surface, contain vast biodiversity including several clades that are well-preserved and abundant in the fossil record, and thus offer an ideal system for synthetic evolutionary research on extinction. Until recently marine species were assumed to be more resistant to extinction than terrestrial ones, yet growing evidence suggests that marine ecosystems have already suffered large-scale declines. We have assembled an international group of evolutionary biologists, paleontologists, and ecologists to address (1) whether there are universal determinants of extinction risk in the sea and (2) whether we can use particular times in Earth history to predict the responses of extant species to projected environmental change. Answering these questions is of pressing import as we struggle to understand the impacts of current extinctions on the future of biodiversity. The group will employ two modes of synthesis (data aggregation and meta-analysis), will generate a publicly-accessible synoptic database that allows for evaluation of extinction risk in marine organisms across different spatial and temporal scales, and will convene an interdisciplinary symposium on marine extinction risk to foster further dialogue between biologists working at these all-too-often disjunct temporal scales.