Thursday, March 14, 2013


Biologists are currently living in unrepresented times. More species transitioned from threatened to endangered on the endangered species list in recent years than ever before. I for one believe we are entering a new epoch in geological time. I am on the side of those who propose we have left the Holocene Epoch and are at the cusp of the Anthropocene extinction event.

Much like the previous key holes life on earth squeezed through at the end of the Permian and the Cretaceous periods, it is clear that the shifting climate will cause ecosystem collapse. As scientists we have a rare opportunity to study this collapse and see how tipping points in ecology actually work. We know that mass extinctions have happened, we have closely studied the fossil record to glean as much data as possible, but all this still has left the picture a little grainy and out of focus.

I propose a new field of study, Extinction Biology. This discipline will combine the ecosystem and biodiversity mapping of an ecologist with repeated intervals of surveys in places most likely to experience dramatic changes to environmental conditions. The goal will be to find not only the minimum viable population for individual species, but nail down the effects of specific species on the carrying capacity of the ecosystem as a whole.

What makes an ecosystem resilient? Does having multiple keystone species in competition lead to resilience? Or does it depend more on interactions on trophic levels that might have less diversity? For instance there are usually many different representatives from Plantae in proportion to only a few cordata species from Animalia.

Conservationists aghast at loss of biodiversity are really clinging to an anthropocentric view. The truth is we are not capable of exterminating life from planet earth. In the past we have lost nearly 90% of species (Permian extinction) extant at one time. Granted it took about 10 million years to recover, but it was not impossible. In truth, we should conserve current biodiversity in order to protect human life.

Since we as a species don't seem all that interested in continuing much longer, we should take advantage of a rare opportunity to gather and preserve as much data as possible so what ever life manages to struggle through this key hole of our own creation, if it should become sentient, can learn from our mistakes and make better choices.

As always, I encourage comments and critiques, and will not edit or omit any posts.

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