Paleontological baselines for evaluating extinction risk in the modern oceans

Seth Finnegan, Sean C. Anderson, Paul G. Harnik, Carl Simpson, Derek P. Tittensor, Jarrett E. Byrnes, Zoe V. Finkel, David R. Lindberg, Lee Hsiang Liow, Rowan Lockwood, Heike K. Lotze, Craig M. McClain, Jenny L. McGuire, Aaron O’Dea, John M. Pandolfi (2015) Paleontological baselines for evaluating extinction risk in the modern oceans. Science. 348(6234): 567-570. DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa6635 link

Marine taxa are threatened by anthropogenic impacts, but knowledge of their extinction vulnerabilities is limited. The fossil record provides rich information on past extinctions that can help predict biotic responses. We show that over 23 million years, taxonomic membership and geographic range size consistently explain a large proportion of extinction risk variation in six major taxonomic groups. We assess intrinsic risk—extinction risk predicted by paleontologically calibrated models—for modern genera in these groups. Mapping the geographic distribution of these genera identifies coastal biogeographic provinces where fauna with high intrinsic risk are strongly affected by human activity or climate change. Such regions are disproportionately in the tropics, raising the possibility that these ecosystems may be particularly vulnerable to future extinctions. Intrinsic risk provides a prehuman baseline for considering current threats to marine biodiversity.