2019 AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition:

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Conservation Paleobiology— Using Ancient Examples of Marine Extinctions to Understand and Mitigate Future Ecosystem Collapse


Humankind is currently driving dramatic changes in the Earth system, such as rising global temperatures, increased carbon dioxide in the atmophere and oceans, pollution, as well as expanded dysoxia and acidity in the ocean. One of the major concerns about the future of our planet is how communities and ecosystems will change in the face of these dramatic biogeochemical shifts, as well as, which communities or organisms will survive and which will face extinction. While biological studies and monitoring efforts can provide data on annual, decadal, and century-scale shifts in ecosystems and species-specific reactions, short-term research cannot predict evolutionary or ecosystem-scale responses. Thus, paleoecological studies assume significance for their extended temporal perspective (i.e., millennial to million-year timescales).

Conservation Paleobiology uses geohistorical data (e.g., quantitative paleoecological data) to solve imminent problems of biodiversity conservation, mitigate ecosystem degradation, and protect communities. Several ancient carbon cycle perturbations have been identified as good analogues for modern change. Some of these comparable events are associated with catastrophic extinctions and complete ecosystem reordering (e.g., the end-Permian and end-Triassic mass extinctions), whereas others are more moderate in their ecological effects (e.g., the Toarcian Oceanic Anoxic Event and the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum). Current research focuses on understanding these different ecological disasters in order to gain a better understanding of what environmental stresses result in patterns of ecological restructuring. By comparing the geological events that caused the largest extinctions with those that resulted in more moderate ecosystem collapse, key physiological, ecological, and environmental features that correlate with species and community survival can be identified. Identifying factors that promoted survival during past disturbances will result in more informed conservation plans for future ocean communities.