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Study: Mass Extinctions Could Shake Up Marine Life

September 8, 2010

From AOL News

The rate at which animals and plants are going extinct could drastically alter life in the Earth’s seas, according to a new study.

Mass extinctions throughout history have altered the structure of life in the seas, with dominant creatures being toppled and others rushing in to take their place, creating a whole new ecosystem.
It would be unwise to assume that any large number of species can be lost today without forever altering the basic biological character of Earth’s oceans,” John Alroy of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, wrote in his study, published this week in the journal Science.

Human activity such as fishing, agriculture and logging have greatly accelerated the rate at which species go extinct. As of last year, one in eight birds, one third of amphibians and almost a quarter of mammals were threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Alroy’s study looked at 100,000 marine fossil collections spanning hundreds of millions of years. He found that dominant creatures can be dramatically affected by large extinctions.

One example is the brachiopod, a creature which is similar to the clam and was among the dominant life forms in the ocean for nearly 300 million years. Then it was hit with a mass extinction event about 250 million years ago. This “reset the clock on diversification and overturned the balance of groups,” according to the study.

From AOL News

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