Fossils now have a new use in the scientific world. They are not only remains of dead plants and animals of long ago, but they are now used to predict the future.
A 23-million-year fossil record is being used by an international scientific team to calculate the risk of extinction of certain marine animals and ecosystems of today.
The research points to the tropical regions as the most threatened, Professor John Pandolfi, from The University of Queensland and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies said.
He said, “Marine species are under threat from human interevention, but knowledge of their vulnerabilities is limited.”
The research revealed the analysts of extinction vulnerability, geographic size and the organism type had persisted consistently for 23 million years.
The researchers use fossil records to evaluate the baseline extinction risk for aquatic animals, like sharks, whales and dolphins, as well as small sedentary creatures like snails, clams and corals.
Pandolfi said the estimations were utilized to chart natural extinction risk in modern seas.
“We then compared it with recent human pressures on the ocean, like fishing and temperature change, to identify the areas most at risk. These regions are disproportionately in the tropics, raising the possibility that these ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to future extinctions,” he said.
Assistant Professor Seth Finnegan of the University of California Berkeley, stated the researchers plotted the areas where species with high inherent risk were most affected by human intervention and climate change.
“Our goal was to diagnose which species are vulnerable in the modern world, using the past as a guide. We believe the past can inform the way we plan our conservation efforts. However, there is a lot more work that needs to be done to understand the causes underlying these patterns and their policy implications,” Finnegan said.
Identification of the regions and species at risk greatly means conserving efforts can be targeted better.
Dr Sean Anderson from the Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, said it was tough to identify extinctions in the oceans.
“But fossils can help fill the gaps. Our findings can help prioritise areas and species that might be at greater risk of extinction and that might require extra attention, conservation or management, protecting vulnerable species in vulnerable places,” Anderson said.