Zaffos, who is currently pursuing a doctorate at the University of Cincinnati, noted that the counterintuitive results highlight the unique contribution that understanding the fossil record brings to conservation.
"Many recent studies of extinction by paleobiologists are coming out with findings that are contrary to what we see in modern environments and sometimes even contrary to what other paleontologists see in other geologic eras," he said. "I think this is why paleobiology is so importantit's the only way for us to examine ecology at multiple points in the Earth's history, when perhaps the environmental and biological settings were different enough that even our most intuitive expectations don't hold."
In a related study published in the same edition of Paleobiology, Holland tackled another widely held theory about extinctionthat rising sea levels encourage the diversification of new species by increasing the amount of available shallow-water habitat. He modeled nine diverse global locations and found that sea level rise does not consistently increase habitable area, with different coasts and different habitats displaying substantially different changes in area for the same amount of sea level fluctuation.
Holland admitted that his findings are a bit disheartening. The planet is currently in the midst of an extinction event caused by human-induced habitat loss and global warming, and scientists would like to be able to predict which species are most at risk so that scarce resources can be put toward their conservation.
"You really want to be able to make some predictions about extinction risk so that you can guide policies," Holland said, "and if the selectivity of extinction is much more complicat
|Contact: Steven Holland|
University of Georgia