Public programs at UCMP : UCMP's annual short course

Where have all the species gone? The processes and patterns of extinction

Throughout Earth's history, biodiversity has been molded by extinction. Today, the study of species survival has taken on new urgency as rapid changes in ecosystems, climate systems, and human populations threaten an increasing proportion of our biota. We learned about the complex web of interacting mechanisms that influence extinction both in deep time and today, and explored the physical, biological, and anthropogenic drivers of background and mass extinction, the role of extinction in restructuring communities, and the evolutionary opportunities that extinction events leave in their wake.

This short course was cosponsored by the Berkeley Natural History Museums (BNHM) and Science@Cal.

Saturday, March 1, 2014
2050 Valley Life Sciences Building, UC Berkeley
9:00 am to 3:30 pm





Welcome, logistics, and introduction by Lisa White


Setting the stage — Seth Finnegan


Dissecting the Late Ordovician Mass Extinction: What happened in the oceans 450 million years ago, and what can we learn from it?
Seth Finnegan, UCMP Curator and Assistant Professor, Department of Integrative Biology, UC Berkeley
The marine fossil record provides a rich chronicle of the rise and fall of different groups of organisms through time. This record demonstrates that extinction rates have varied considerably through time, including several major mass extinctions. One of the first and largest of these was the Late Ordovician Mass Extinction (LOME). This event unfolded over a considerable timespan and was clearly related to climatic changes that occurred at the same time. However, the specific ways in which climate changes caused an increase in extinction rates have been difficult to unravel. I will review recent work by myself and others aimed at discerning cause and effect relationships during the LOME and will discuss lessons we can learn from this event regarding general relationships between climate change and extinction.
Download Seth's presentation as a pdf.


Crisis at the end of the Permian: Global change and the greatest mass extinction in the history of life
Pedro Marenco, Assistant Professor, Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania
Approximately 250 million years ago, a series of environmental changes led to the greatest mass extinction of all time. Upwards of 80% of marine fossil species went extinct, in addition to severe extinctions on land. This extinction was far more devastating and long lasting than that which killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous, and yet outside of the paleontological community, few people know much about the End Permian mass extinction. In many ways, the End Cretaceous event is easier to understand because most of the evidence suggests that an external factor — a large meteorite — was the likely trigger for the mass extinction. In contrast, the extinction at the end of the Permian was caused by a complex set of internal factors, including a lack of oxygen in the deep ocean, ocean acidification, and global warming, all likely triggered by the most extreme volcanism in the history of animal life.
Download Pedro's PowerPoint presentation.


Trouble in paradise: Paleoecology and extinction of Pacific island birds
Alison Boyer, Research Assistant Professor, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee
Estimating the impact of humans on other species often involves a lot of guesswork, especially when considering the past. The archaeological and fossil record of Pacific islands, however, makes it possible to reconstruct a detailed history of human environmental impacts on birds over the past 3000 years. Recent compilations suggest that more than 980 species of birds have disappeared, making it one of the largest recognized impacts of humans on other species to date. Large-bodied, flightless, and endemic species, and those with specialized diets were most likely to fall victim to extinction. Boyer will share highlights from her field research on the island of New Caledonia and will discuss lessons these past extinctions may hold for the conservation of biodiversity.
Download Alison's presentation as a pdf.


Break for lunch (on your own)


Hot and sour crab: A taste of how global change is impacting coastal crabs
Jonathon Stillman, Assistant Adjunct Professor, Department of Integrative Biology, UC Berkeley
Coastal marine environments are predicted to become increasingly variable with respect to temperature and acidity as a result of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide. We have been focusing on understanding how ecologically and economically important crabs will respond to future ocean conditions that are warmer, more acidic, and more variable. In this talk I will present evidence for how California's coastal porcelain crabs and Alaska's red king crabs are vulnerable to global climate change. I will highlight work ranging from organismal physiology to genomic-scale analyses of responses to warmer, high CO2 conditions.
Download Jonathon's PowerPoint presentation.


Dodging extinction
Tony Barnosky, UCMP Curator and Professor, Department of Integrative Biology, UC Berkeley
Many biologists think we are on the verge of the Sixth Mass Extinction. This talk will review the major drivers of extinction, the current biodiversity crisis, and explore how close we actually are to the Sixth Mass Extinction and what we can do to avoid making that fear a reality.
Download Tony's presentation as a pdf.


Open questions

About the speakers
Tony Barnosky is a Professor of Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley. He completed his undergraduate work at Colorado College and earned his Ph.D. in Geological Sciences at the University of Washington in 1983. He studies how global change influences extinction dynamics and biodiversity maintenance. He blends geological, paleontological, and modern data to determine when and how human impacts fundamentally shift natural ecological baselines, with the overall goal of developing feasible natural resource policies as we go into a future with pressures unique in Earth's history (including very large human populations, climate change, and energy use).

Alison Boyer is a research professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Tennessee. She earned a Ph.D. in ecology at the University of New Mexico in 2008 and completed postdoctoral studies in (1) paleoecology of island birds at the Smithsonian Institution and (2) biodiversity informatics at Yale University. Alison now leads a research group at Tennessee focused on understanding how natural communities change due to past and present-day human-caused environmental changes.

Seth Finnegan is an Assistant Professor of Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley. He attended the University of Chicago as an undergraduate, did his Ph.D. work at UC Riverside, and spent time as a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford and Caltech. He grew up collecting Paleozoic marine invertebrate fossils in the Chicago area and has always been fascinated by marine life past and present. His research is aimed at understanding how and why marine ecosystems have changed through time, with a particular focus on the causes and consequences of extinctions during ancient episodes of climate change.

Pedro J. Marenco is Assistant Professor of geology at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. After growing up in Sacramento, CA, he earned a B.S. (2000) in computer engineering and computer science, an M.S. (2002) and a Ph.D. (2007) in geological sciences from the University of Southern California. In addition to his work studying the End Permian mass extinction, Pedro is now investigating how global environmental changes impacted the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event, an interval of time during which life was flourishing.

Jonathon Stillman is a marine environmental physiologist based at the Romberg Tiburon Center and the Department of Biology, San Francisco State University, and the Department of Integrative Biology, UC Berkeley. His research focuses on how marine invertebrates, mainly crabs, and phytoplankton respond to changes in habitat temperature, pH, and salinity in order to make inferences about evolutionary adaptation and response to climate change. He lives in Berkeley with his wife, two daughters, and a cadre of pets.