Ocean study contrasts prehistoric extinctions with situation now

Ocean scientists in Panamá and elsewhere are comparing today’s situation with those of the largest extinctions in prehistory.

Aaron O’Dea, a staff scientist with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panamá, along with researchers from the United States, Australia, Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom, compared conditions that created massive extinctions of sea life in the past to events occurring in the oceans today, the institute said.

Three of five of the largest extinctions during the last 500 million years were associated with global warming and ocean acidification — both of which threaten marine life today, the
institute noted. In the Great Death at the end of the Permian period 250 million years ago, an estimated 95 percent of marine species died out due to a combination of warming, acidification and loss of oxygen, it said.

“We see clear evidence from both the past and the present that sea life can bounce back, if given a chance to do so,” said John Pandolfi, professor at the University of Queensland and former Smithsonian Institute post-doctoral fellow.

“That means a combined effort that implements and enforces reserves where marine life has a refuge and also tackles the global drivers of warming and acidification,” added O’Dea.
Their academic article, “Extinctions in ancient and modern seas,” was published online in “Trends in Ecology and Evolution.”

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