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Hot Extinctions

November 15, 2007

Warmer temperatures have consistently preceded more extinctions throughout Earth’s history.


The perils of a hotter climate. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

It’s feared that global warming could spell doom for many of Earth’s species. A team of British ecologists has studied virtually the entire fossil record – going back half a billion years – and found a consistent link between warmer temperatures and higher extinction rates. Peter Mayhew of the University of York says this includes four of the five biggest mass extinctions in Earth’s history.

PETER MAYHEW (University of York):
What our data suggest, really, is that there’s something about being in a greenhouse condition that makes you prone to extinction.

It’s not clear what that is. But Mayhew says it’s possible that the atmosphere and ocean are more easily destabilized during warmer periods, which could lead to more frequent and devastating environmental catastrophes. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.