The Great Extinctions: What Causes Them and How They Shape Life

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9780565092788: The Great Extinctions: What Causes Them and How They Shape Life

What is extinction? What causes it? Can it be prevented? In The Great Extinctions leading palaeontologist Norman MacLeod reveals how, contrary to popular conception, species extinction is as natural a process as species evolution. Examining extinction over geological time, he compares ancient extinction events and uses them to predict what might happen in the future. Life's rich tapestry has escalated over time, despite several major setbacks. In total some 1,000 - 3,000 million species are estimated to have appeared during Earth's history, yet only 12.5 million currently exist today. This means that the overwhelming majority of species that have ever lived are extinct. Featuring the latest evidence on the subject and informative illustrations and diagrams throughout, The Great Extinctions is an absorbing guide to extinctions, their causes and their effects on evolutionary processes. As the debates about man's impact on the environment, about biodiversity and about conservation and extinction, continue, this book is essential reading for popular science enthusiasts and all those with an interest in natural history or environmental issues.

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About the Author:

Professor Norman MacLeod is Keeper of Palaeontology at the Natural History Museum, London. He studies the origins of fossils and modern organisms using mathematical analysis and models. Prof. MacLeod has written numerous books, reports and articles on the subject of extinction.

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Introduction

For the past 30 years a significant proportion of the scientific community has been obsessed with the idea of extinctions, especially the extinction of the 'dinosaurs' at or close to the boundary between the Cretaceous and Palaeogene intervals of Earth history. This interest pre-dates the current concern with the 'sixth' extinction, a hypothetical event that may occur in the future and which takes its name from the 'Big Five' ancient (mass) extinction events of the fossil record. The reasons for this and the sustained level of interest in extinction related topics are many and varied. But they share a common source. The concept of extinction elicits a deep emotional reaction in most people today, in no small way because we all share an intuitive concern about transformations being wrought in our increasingly unnatural environment. When we see declines taking place in landscapes, animals and plants at the local, regional and even global scales we cannot help experience the sense of foreboding that comes from drawing obvious parallels between the status of our own species and the fates of other, far more ancient, species that 'ruled the Earth' in the distant past.

Much has been written about extinction. Many treatments of this topic end up claiming that the problem of understanding extinctions in general or particular extinction events has been solved (e.g. Raup 1991, Ward 1995, Alvarez 1997). In reality, the scientific community is far from having a detailed understanding of the enigma that is extinction, as attested to by the simple fact that 'extinction debates' constitute one of the longest-running scientific controversies in living memory. If a consensus regarding what 'killed' the dinosaurs, the ammonites, and their kin has been achieved (see Alvarez et al., 1980, Schulte et al., 2010), why do so many professional palaeontologists -- especially those who know the extinction record best -- stand outside it (e.g. see Archibald et al., 2010)? Given the current state of knowledge about extinction as a phenomenon, what inferences for the contemporary and future management of our planet can, or should, we draw? What type of cataclysm does it take to extinguish 50, or 60, or 75, or 90 percent of all species on the land and in the sea, as has happened repeatedly in the Earth's distant past? What causes the sort of changes in the environment that drive extinction rates to these astonishing levels and over what timescales? Perhaps most importantly, how does a planet recover from devastations of such magnitude?

I have undertaken and published extinction research using the fossil record as my primary source of data for most of my professional career. I and my colleagues have grown up (literally) with this research programme, this scientific debate, this public controversy. Like all participants in any human activity, I have a particular point of view that I believe conforms to the most reasonable interpretation of the greatest proportion of evidence currently to hand. I disagree with explanations offered by some of my colleagues and some of them disagree with me. Such is the character of healthy scientific debate. But my goal in this book is not to simply present the case for my own point-of-view by citing the evidence in its favour and ignoring contrary observations. Rather, it is to present the data extinction researchers of all persuasions work with as fairly as I can, mentioning all the nuances, caveats and assumptions that often get left out of presentations for a popular audience. Once this evidence has been presented it will be up to you, the reader, to come to your own conclusions about extinctions, what has happened in the past, and what might occur in the future. No doubt my own biases will creep in from time to time. This is inevitable. I pledge here to make a diligent effort to identify instances in which I am offering a personal opinion or interpretation. More than this though, I hope to convey some inkling of the excitement, the novelty, the frustration and the sense of grandeur that accompanies the study of one of natures most common processes, but also one of its deepest mysteries.

It has been said that the secret to a long life is to have a chronic incurable disease and to keep treating it. By the same token, the secret to a productive life in science is to have a chronic insoluble problem and to keep working on it. By this measure I and my extinction-studies colleagues on all sides of the interpretational fence have been very fortunate indeed.

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Mr. Norman MacLeod
Editorial: The Natural History Museum, United Kingdom (2013)
ISBN 10: 0565092782 ISBN 13: 9780565092788
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Descripción The Natural History Museum, United Kingdom, 2013. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. New ed.. Language: English . Brand New Book. What is extinction? What causes it? Can it be prevented? In The Great Extinctions leading palaeontologist Norman MacLeod reveals how, contrary to popular conception, species extinction is as natural a process as species evolution. Examining extinction over geological time, he compares ancient extinction events and uses them to predict what might happen in the future. Life s rich tapestry has escalated over time, despite several major setbacks. In total some 1,000 - 3,000 million species are estimated to have appeared during Earth s history, yet only 12.5 million currently exist today. This means that the overwhelming majority of species that have ever lived are extinct. Featuring the latest evidence on the subject and informative illustrations and diagrams throughout, The Great Extinctions is an absorbing guide to extinctions, their causes and their effects on evolutionary processes. As the debates about man s impact on the environment, about biodiversity and about conservation and extinction, continue, this book is essential reading for popular science enthusiasts and all those with an interest in natural history or environmental issues. Nº de ref. de la librería AAW9780565092788

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Mr. Norman MacLeod
Editorial: The Natural History Museum, United Kingdom (2013)
ISBN 10: 0565092782 ISBN 13: 9780565092788
Nuevos Paperback Cantidad: 1
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The Book Depository
(London, Reino Unido)
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Descripción The Natural History Museum, United Kingdom, 2013. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. New ed.. Language: English . Brand New Book. What is extinction? What causes it? Can it be prevented? In The Great Extinctions leading palaeontologist Norman MacLeod reveals how, contrary to popular conception, species extinction is as natural a process as species evolution. Examining extinction over geological time, he compares ancient extinction events and uses them to predict what might happen in the future. Life s rich tapestry has escalated over time, despite several major setbacks. In total some 1,000 - 3,000 million species are estimated to have appeared during Earth s history, yet only 12.5 million currently exist today. This means that the overwhelming majority of species that have ever lived are extinct. Featuring the latest evidence on the subject and informative illustrations and diagrams throughout, The Great Extinctions is an absorbing guide to extinctions, their causes and their effects on evolutionary processes. As the debates about man s impact on the environment, about biodiversity and about conservation and extinction, continue, this book is essential reading for popular science enthusiasts and all those with an interest in natural history or environmental issues. Nº de ref. de la librería AAW9780565092788

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