Fossil record supports evidence of impending mass extinction

Global temperatures predicted for the coming centuries may trigger a new ‘mass extinction event’, where over 50 per cent of animal and plant species would be wiped out, warn scientists at the Universities of York and Leeds.

The research team has, for the first time, discovered a close association between Earth climate and extinctions in a study that has examined the relationship over the past 520 million years – almost the entire fossil record available.

Matching data sets of marine and terrestrial diversity against temperature estimates, evidence shows that global biodiversity is relatively low during warm ‘greenhouse’ phases and extinctions relatively high, while the reverse is true in cooler ‘icehouse’ phases.

Moreover, future predicted temperatures are within the range of the warmest greenhouse phases that are associated with mass extinction events identified in the fossil record.

The research, published in the latest issue of Proceedings of the Royal Society B, was carried out by University of York student Gareth Jenkins, together with his supervisor, Dr Peter Mayhew, and University of Leeds Professor Tim Benton, both of whom are population ecologists.

Dr Mayhew says: “Our results provide the first clear evidence that global climate may explain substantial variation in the fossil record in a simple and consistent manner. If our results hold for current warming - the magnitude of which is comparable with the long-term fluctuations in Earth climate - they suggest that extinctions will increase.”

Of the five mass extinction events, four - including the one that eliminated the dinosaurs 65 million years ago - are associated with greenhouse phases. The largest mass extinction event of all, the end-Permian, occurred during one of the warmest ever climatic phases and saw the estimated extinction of 95 per cent of animal and plant species.

“The long-term association has not been seen before, as previous studies have largely been confined to relatively short geological periods, limited geographical extents and few groups of organisms,” says Professor Benton. “But the evidence is striking.”

Source: University of York


Explore further

Fossil fish provides new insights into the evolution

Citation: Fossil record supports evidence of impending mass extinction (2007, October 24) retrieved 18 October 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2007-10-fossil-evidence-impending-mass-extinction.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
0 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

Oct 24, 2007
I'd be more worried about the next ice age. Especially since all of the extinction events are usually associated with larger meteors htting the earht and releasing vast quantities of energy. Possibly burning most plant life.

And if you burn most plant life ... CO2.

Of course, you were dead too. From the burning.

Oct 24, 2007
The knowledge that the earth's climate goes through natural cycles of warming and cooling is not new. However, the question of global warming should not focus on whether or not a warming of the climate is normal. It should instead focus on whether or not the impact that we humans have had in the environment is accelerating and/or magnifying this change.

As this article points out, there have been several periods in the past when we estimate that the climate was unusually warm and we see an association between this and the periodical mass extinctions that are observed at the end of a warm climate cycle. Note that this has been occuring long before humans ever left their fingerprint in the atmosphere.

I am not saying that our impact on the environment and the cycle of climatic warming and cooling is negatable, but the warming of our climate is natural and would probably occur whether or not we humans were leaving our mark on our environment.

If it is true, as Mayhew stated, that the current trend of climatic warming is consistant with trends in the past that have led to mass extinctions, then I do believe we may very well see yet another round of extinctions.

As it is, there is already an increase of extinctions as of late, but most seem to be assigned to human impact. However, as this research suggests, it may correlate to the natural climatic warming we are currently experiencing and may happen whether or not we humans are in existance.

The question I believe we can arrive at once again is whether or not we humans have changed our surroundings enough as to have an impact on this natural cycle of climatic warming by either magnifying or accelerating its rate.

Oct 24, 2007
Wow....reminds me of a line from freakonomics

A Russian Czar was told that the town that had the most sick people also had the most doctors. The czar decided to solve the problem by killing all of the doctors....

This study means nothing unless you randomly assume causality in the direction of greenhouse event=>extinction event


Oct 24, 2007
Alarmist Global Warming Crap. Is this what science has come to now? Apparently... It is getting stupid. Dark days for rational thought. Newton, Einstein, Leibniz, Galileo, Hawking: which of these is not like the others?

Oct 24, 2007
Let's see...
Mass extinctions caused by high temps
High temps caused my meteor strikes
Global warming caused by humans
Mass extinctions cause by humans
therefore, Humans cause meteor strikes?
I was taught that correlation is not causation.
I guess I was taught wrong.

Oct 25, 2007
Spock here.

Multinational configuration. Population approaching 7 billion. Dwindling resources for sustainable food synthesis. Looming ineluctable pandemics. Local war lords stockpiling armaments, including atomic weapons. Misalignment of planetary core, mantle, and crustal rotation axes suggestive of near term magnetic pole shift; friction from which amplifies general seismic activity and volcanism, with a commensurate increase in average global temperature. Nation states rife with inept, self-serving political cliques...

Beam me up, Scotty. There's no intelligent life on this planet.

:-)

Oct 25, 2007
"The research team has, for the first time, discovered a close association between Earth climate and extincti..."

A blatantly false statement. Pure rubbish. Just off the top of my head I can think of half a dozen much early studies asserting along similiar lines. James Lovelock in the 1970's noted that the interglacial periods were analogous to Gaia running a fever. So what's new?

Far, far, worse is the comparison of uber-climatic shifts on the scale of once in 200-plus million years or more (The Permian extinction, for pete's sake!) to the paltry modern effects of a couple of 100 ppm of C02. That's not science, that's myth-making and fearmongering to the drum beat of some sort of political agenda. That's dishonest and fraudulent.

Ancient geo-cosmic mega-events that occured over a scale of several billions years can not be compared to the last 50 years... At least not outside of the genre of science FICTION or evangelical religious fire and brimstone sermons.

I'm beginning to think that most climate scientists attend the church next to the creationists.

Oct 26, 2007
If you look at a graph of longtime global temperatures we are near the bottom of the ditch.
Technicaly we are still in an iceage,a point made often in the past but convieniently forgotten now.OH! another inconvienient truth!

Jan 17, 2008
Yeah, Al Gore, the inconvenient untruth.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more