Posted by: The ocean update | May 1, 2015

Scientists turn to the past for the future

ossil marine creatures and their living relatives. From top, whales, sharks, sand dollars (echinoids), snails, clams and corals.

ossil marine creatures and their living relatives. From top, whales, sharks, sand dollars (echinoids), snails, clams and corals.

May 1st, 2015. History does repeat itself, particularly when it comes to extinction.

Fossil records from the past 23 million years show species like dolphins, whales and seals are the most vulnerable to extinction, a team of international scientists say.

They have been studying the past in a bid to predict the future.

Assistant Professor Seth Finnegan, from the University of California Berkeley, says understanding which regions and species are intrinsically at most risk of extinction will help improve conservation efforts.

“Our goal was to diagnose which species are vulnerable in the modern world, using the past as a guide,” Prof Finnegan said.

“We believe the past can inform the way we plan our conservation efforts.”

Big mammals such as whales, dolphins and seals, and tropical regions, including the Pacific Ocean’s coral triangle, were identified as having the highest risk of becoming extinct.

Add climate change and human impacts to the mix, and the future of these species and ecosystems doesn’t look bright, University of Queensland and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies Professor John Pandolfi said.

“We found the whales, dolphins and seals have a higher risk of extinction than say the sharks,” he told AAP.

“We also found that the tropics had a high susceptibility than other regions.

“Pile climate change and human impacts on top of that, as seen in the coral triangle, and you get these hotspots that really need more conservation.”

The research has been published in the journal Science.

Citation : Paleontological baselines for evaluating extinction risk in the modern oceans. S Finnegan et al. Science 1 May 2015. Vol. 348 no. 6234 pp. 567-570. DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa6635

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