The link between temperature and mass extinction

Mass extinction is certainly one of the gravest threats posed by climate change. A new paleoclimate study underscores the danger:

We analysed the fossil record for the last 520 Myr against estimates of low latitude sea surface temperature for the same period. We found that global biodiversity (the richness of families and genera) is related to temperature and has been relatively low during warm ‘greenhouse’ phases, while during the same phases extinction and origination rates of taxonomic lineages have been relatively high. These findings are consistent for terrestrial and marine environments and are robust to a number of alternative assumptions and potential biases. Our results provide the first clear evidence that global climate may explain substantial variation in the fossil record in a simple and consistent manner.

The conclusion of the study, “A long-term association between global temperature and biodiversity, origination and extinction in the fossil record”:

The risk of future extinction through rapid global warming is primarily expected to occur through mismatchesbetween the climates to which organisms are adapted in their current range and the future distributionsof those climates…. [I]t is plausible that high long-term global temperatures may increase the general vulnerability of species to rapid climate change, and this may also explain the associations we find…. Prima facie, our results suggest that future global warming may be detrimental to biodiversity.


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