UCL Earth Sciences


Gigantism and the age of extinction.

17 February 2022

Determining how biodiversity will respond to the current climatic and environmental crisis is a key conservation science goal. However ...

Phil Mannion at Natural History Museum

... such forecasts are typically based entirely on recent records of species (last ~50 years). This is problematic, given that these recent records are strongly affected by human interactions and we do not know whether current distributions reflect the full suite of environmental parameters a species can inhabit. As such, our concepts of baselines of biodiversity, including extinction rate and size selectivity (e.g. whether large-bodied species are most at-risk), are severely distorted by the narrow temporal lens through which they are viewed.

The fossil record provides a unique window into long-term interactions between biodiversity, climate, and human impacts. Perhaps most importantly, it enables us to decouple the distorting effects of human influence on biodiversity, providing our only evidence of ‘normal’ extinction rate dynamics and ‘pristine’ ecosystems. This short film explores how the fossil record can help us improve predictions of species responses, including understanding why many of the largest species to have ever lived on Earth went extinct.