What marine ecosystem is most at risk of extinction from human impact? An international team of scientists used 23 million years of fossil records to conclude that the tropics are most at risk of extinction today.
In a paper published in the journal Science, researchers found that the predictors of extinction vulnerability, geographic range and the type of organisms have remained consistent over the past 23 million years.
Study co-author and professor at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, University of Queensland John Pandolfi states:
“We used these estimates to map natural extinction risk in modern oceans, and compare it with recent human pressures on the ocean such as fishing, and climate change to identify the areas most at risk. These regions are disproportionately in the tropics, raising the possibility that these ecosystems may be particularly vulnerable to future extinctions.”
With these records, the scientists were able to assess a baseline extinction risk for tropical ecosystems and marine animals like sharks, whales, dolphins, snails, clams, corals and more. They then mapped the regions where those species with high risk were most impacted by humans and climate change.
By identifying these regions, humans can now target the tropics and the species that dwell there in conservation efforts and policies. From Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, co-author Dr. Sean Anderson says:
“It’s very difficult to detect extinctions in the modern oceans but fossils can help fill in the gaps. Our findings can help prioritize areas and species that might be at greater risk of extinction and that might require extra attention, conservation or management – protecting vulnerable species in vulnerable places.”