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Extinction runs in the family
Date:8/8/2009

on during more normal times were hardest hit. Three families with the highest background rates disappeared entirely. Two others, with rates more than twice the median, suffered heavy losses and have not recovered to this day.

"Big extinctions have a filtering effect. They tend to preferentially cull the more vulnerable lineages, leaving the resistant ones to proliferate afterwards," Hunt said.

When extinctions are scattered randomly across the evolutionary tree, the breadth of evolutionary history remains represented among living things, even when many species are lost. Clumped extinctions do the opposite, disproportionately removing the deeper history.

"Extinctions in the past and presumably in the future will lop off chunks of evolutionary trees, not just prune the trees and leave most of the history intact," Jablonski said.

The message for conservation is to focus efforts on vulnerable lineages, the authors say. To preserve the full spectrum of evolutionary history found among living things today, the most fragile families will need careful protection.

Even relatively low levels of threat could eliminate large limbs, Roy said. "If you have whole lineages more vulnerable than others, then very soon, even with relatively moderate levels of extinction, you start to lose a lot of evolutionary history."


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Contact: Kaustuv Roy
kroy@ucsd.edu
University of California - San Diego
Source:Eurekalert

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