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Environmentalist

, Volume 16, Issue 1, pp 37–47 | Cite as

The biodiversity crisis and the future of evolution

  • Norman Myers
Papers

Abstract

A large proportion of existing species — possibly half, conceivably even more — may be lost within the foreseeable future. But this may not prove to be the most consequential outcome of the current biodiversity crisis. More significant could be the disruption and degradation of several basic processes of evolution. It appears likely that for mass extinction episodes (MEEs) in the geological past, the recovery period usually lasted at least five million years. Because of certain unique features of the present MEE — notably the near elimination of biomes such as tropical forests, wetlands and coral reefs, which have served as ‘powerhouses’ of evolution in the past — the ‘bounce-back’ phase could extend several times longer than five million years. Among distinctive features of future evolution could be; in the short term, homogenization of biotas, a proliferation of opportunistic species, an outburst of speciation among particular taxa, and a pest-and-weed ecology; and, in the long term, a decline of biodisparity, the elimination of megavertebrates, an end to speciation among large vertebrates, and multiple constraints on origination, innovation and adaptive radiation. These disruptive phenomena would rank among the most prominent departures in the entire course of evolution. Full knowledge and understanding of what may characterize future evolution remains largely a black hole of research. As a consequence, conservation policies fail to reflect a further problem of the biodiversity prospect, perhaps exceeding the better recognized problem of the mass extinction of species.

Keywords

Black Hole Coral Reef Tropical Forest Foreseeable Future Mass Extinction 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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© Chapman & Hall 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Norman Myers
    • 1
  1. 1.Upper MeadowHeadington, OxfordUK

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