SciCombinator

Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Genetic erosion

264

The rapid expansion of human activities threatens ocean-wide biodiversity. Numerous marine animal populations have declined, yet it remains unclear whether these trends are symptomatic of a chronic accumulation of global marine extinction risk. We present the first systematic analysis of threat for a globally distributed lineage of 1,041 chondrichthyan fishes-sharks, rays, and chimaeras. We estimate that one-quarter are threatened according to IUCN Red List criteria due to overfishing (targeted and incidental). Large-bodied, shallow-water species are at greatest risk and five out of the seven most threatened families are rays. Overall chondrichthyan extinction risk is substantially higher than for most other vertebrates, and only one-third of species are considered safe. Population depletion has occurred throughout the world’s ice-free waters, but is particularly prevalent in the Indo-Pacific Biodiversity Triangle and Mediterranean Sea. Improved management of fisheries and trade is urgently needed to avoid extinctions and promote population recovery. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.00590.001.

Concepts: Conservation biology, Evolution, Plant, Endangered species, Extinction, Genetic erosion, Gene pool, IUCN Red List

89

Since the 1980s, many have suggested we are in the midst of a massive extinction crisis, yet only 799 (0.04%) of the 1.9 million known recent species are recorded as extinct, questioning the reality of the crisis. This low figure is due to the fact that the status of very few invertebrates, which represent the bulk of biodiversity, have been evaluated. Here we show, based on extrapolation from a random sample of land snail species via two independent approaches, that we may already have lost 7% (130,000 extinctions) of the species on Earth. However, this loss is masked by the emphasis on terrestrial vertebrates, the target of most conservation actions. Projections of species extinction rates are controversial because invertebrates are essentially excluded from these scenarios. Invertebrates can and must be assessed if we are to obtain a more realistic picture of the sixth extinction crisis.

Concepts: Conservation biology, Evolution, Extinction, Genetic erosion, Dinosaur, Gene pool, Extinction event, Holocene extinction

64

Recent studies clarify where the most vulnerable species live, where and how humanity changes the planet, and how this drives extinctions. We assess key statistics about species, their distribution, and their status. Most are undescribed. Those we know best have large geographical ranges and are often common within them. Most known species have small ranges. The numbers of small-ranged species are increasing quickly, even in well-known taxa. They are geographically concentrated and are disproportionately likely to be threatened or already extinct. Current rates of extinction are about 1000 times the likely background rate of extinction. Future rates depend on many factors and are poised to increase. Although there has been rapid progress in developing protected areas, such efforts are not ecologically representative, nor do they optimally protect biodiversity.

Concepts: Conservation biology, Evolution, Ecology, Endangered species, Extinction, Genetic erosion, Biogeography, Gene pool

40

The biodiversity-productivity relationship (BPR) is foundational to our understanding of the global extinction crisis and its impacts on ecosystem functioning. Understanding BPR is critical for the accurate valuation and effective conservation of biodiversity. Using ground-sourced data from 777,126 permanent plots, spanning 44 countries and most terrestrial biomes, we reveal a globally consistent positive concave-down BPR, showing that continued biodiversity loss would result in an accelerating decline in forest productivity worldwide. The value of biodiversity in maintaining commercial forest productivity alone-US$166 billion to 490 billion per year according to our estimation-is more than twice what it would cost to implement effective global conservation. This highlights the need for a worldwide reassessment of biodiversity values, forest management strategies, and conservation priorities.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Evolution, Ecology, Ecosystem, Sustainability, Genetic erosion, Biome

39

Consensus has been reached that global biodiversity loss impairs ecosystem functioning and the sustainability of services beneficial to humanity. However, the ecosystem consequences of extinction in natural communities are moderated by compensatory species dynamics, yet these processes are rarely accounted for in impact assessments and seldom considered in conservation programmes. Here, we use marine invertebrate communities to parameterise numerical models of sediment bioturbation - a key mediator of biogeochemical cycling - to determine whether post-extinction compensatory mechanisms alter biodiversity-ecosystem function relations following non-random extinctions. We find that compensatory dynamics lead to trajectories of sediment mixing that diverge from those without compensation, and that the form, magnitude and variance of each probabilistic distribution is highly influenced by the type of compensation and the functional composition of surviving species. Our findings indicate that the generalized biodiversity-function relation curve, as derived from multiple empirical investigations of random species loss, is unlikely to yield representative predictions for ecosystem properties in natural systems because the influence of post-extinction community dynamics are under-represented. Recognition of this problem is fundamental to management and conservation efforts, and will be necessary to ensure future plans and adaptation strategies minimize the adverse impacts of the biodiversity crisis.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Evolution, Plant, Ecology, Extinction, Genetic erosion, Gene pool

38

Amphibian chytridiomycosis has caused precipitous declines in hundreds of species worldwide. By tracking mountain chicken (Leptodactylus fallax) populations before, during and after the emergence of chytridiomycosis, we quantified the real-time species level impacts of this disease. We report a range-wide species decline amongst the fastest ever recorded, with a loss of over 85% of the population in fewer than 18 months on Dominica and near extinction on Montserrat. Genetic diversity declined in the wild, but emergency measures to establish a captive assurance population captured a representative sample of genetic diversity from Montserrat. If the Convention on Biological Diversity’s targets are to be met, it is important to evaluate the reasons why they appear consistently unattainable. The emergence of chytridiomycosis in the mountain chicken was predictable, but the decline could not be prevented. There is an urgent need to build mitigation capacity where amphibians are at risk from chytridiomycosis.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Evolution, Biology, Species, Ecology, Genetic erosion, Gene pool

38

Evidence is mounting that extinctions are altering key processes important to the productivity and sustainability of Earth’s ecosystems. Further species loss will accelerate change in ecosystem processes, but it is unclear how these effects compare to the direct effects of other forms of environmental change that are both driving diversity loss and altering ecosystem function. Here we use a suite of meta-analyses of published data to show that the effects of species loss on productivity and decomposition–two processes important in all ecosystems–are of comparable magnitude to the effects of many other global environmental changes. In experiments, intermediate levels of species loss (21-40%) reduced plant production by 5-10%, comparable to previously documented effects of ultraviolet radiation and climate warming. Higher levels of extinction (41-60%) had effects rivalling those of ozone, acidification, elevated CO(2) and nutrient pollution. At intermediate levels, species loss generally had equal or greater effects on decomposition than did elevated CO(2) and nitrogen addition. The identity of species lost also had a large effect on changes in productivity and decomposition, generating a wide range of plausible outcomes for extinction. Despite the need for more studies on interactive effects of diversity loss and environmental changes, our analyses clearly show that the ecosystem consequences of local species loss are as quantitatively significant as the direct effects of several global change stressors that have mobilized major international concern and remediation efforts.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Evolution, Plant, Ecology, Ecosystem, Genetic erosion, Global warming

31

Biodiversity today is huge, and it has a long history. Identifying rules for the heterogeneity of modern biodiversity-the high to low species richness of different clades-has been hard. There are measurable biodiversity differences between land and sea and between the tropics and temperate-polar regions. Some analyses suggest that the net age of a clade can determine its extinction risk, but this is equivocal. New work shows that, through geological time, clades pass through different diversification regimes, and those regimes constrain the balance of tree size and the nature of branching events.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Evolution, Tropics, Taxonomy, Binomial nomenclature, Genetic erosion, Biological classification

29

Invasive species threaten biodiversity globally, and invasive mammalian predators are particularly damaging, having contributed to considerable species decline and extinction. We provide a global metaanalysis of these impacts and reveal their full extent. Invasive predators are implicated in 87 bird, 45 mammal, and 10 reptile species extinctions-58% of these groups' contemporary extinctions worldwide. These figures are likely underestimated because 23 critically endangered species that we assessed are classed as “possibly extinct.” Invasive mammalian predators endanger a further 596 species at risk of extinction, with cats, rodents, dogs, and pigs threatening the most species overall. Species most at risk from predators have high evolutionary distinctiveness and inhabit insular environments. Invasive mammalian predators are therefore important drivers of irreversible loss of phylogenetic diversity worldwide. That most impacted species are insular indicates that management of invasive predators on islands should be a global conservation priority. Understanding and mitigating the impact of invasive mammalian predators is essential for reducing the rate of global biodiversity loss.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Evolution, Species, Ecology, Endangered species, Extinction, Genetic erosion

17

Parasites comprise a substantial portion of total biodiversity. Ultimately, this means that host extinction could result in many secondary extinctions of obligate parasites and potentially alter host-parasite network structure. Here, we examined a highly resolved fish-parasite network to determine key hosts responsible for maintaining parasite diversity and network structure (quantified here as nestedness and modularity). We evaluated four possible host extinction orders and compared the resulting co-extinction dynamics to random extinction simulations; including host removal based on estimated extinction risk, parasite species richness and host level contributions to nestedness and modularity. We found that all extinction orders, except the one based on realistic extinction risk, resulted in faster declines in parasite diversity and network structure relative to random biodiversity loss. Further, we determined species-level contributions to network structure were best predicted by parasite species richness and host family. Taken together, we demonstrate that a small proportion of hosts contribute substantially to network structure and that removal of these hosts results in rapid declines in parasite diversity and network structure. As network stability can potentially be inferred through measures of network structure, our findings may provide insight into species traits that confer stability.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Evolution, Species, Ecology, Endangered species, Genetic erosion, Gene pool