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Most people are familiar with the dodo and the dinosaur, but extinction has occurred throughout the history of life, with the result that nearly all the species that have ever existed are now extinct. Today, species are disappearing at an ever increasing rate, whilst past losses have occurred during several great crises. Issues such as habitat destruction, conservation, climate change, and, during major crises, volacanism and meteorite impact, can all contribute towards the demise of a group.
In this Very Short Introduction, Paul B. Wignall looks at the causes and nature of extinctions, past and present, and the factors that can make a species vulnerable. Summarising what we know about all of the major and minor exctinction events, he examines some of the greatest debates in modern science, such as the relative role of climate and humans in the death of the Pleistocene megafauna, including mammoths and giant ground sloths, and the roles that global warming, ocean acidification, and deforestation are playing in present-day extinctions
1: Causes of extinction
2: Modern extinction and conservation
3: Extinction in the fossil record
4: Mass extinctions
5: Causes of mass extinctions
6: Ice Age extinctions and man
Paul Wignall is Professor of Palaeoenvironments at the University of Leeds, and a leading expert on extinctions. He has published over 200 papers on a multitude of research areas, including the causes of major environmental change such as the deoxygenation of the oceans, and the establishment of super greenhouse climates. In addition to his considerable research output, he has authored a popular science book, The Worst of Times (Princeton University Press, 2015), and has contributed articles to popular science magazines. He has also appeared in many television documentaries, including the recent Walking through Time (Channel 4).
"Extinction is a pressing societal and political problem, but we must get the science right. In this excellent book, Paul Wignall draws on a broad range of recent studies on the great mass extinctions of the past and the present biodiversity crisis to provide the evidence that will inform the debate."
– Michael J. Benton, Professor of Vertebrate Palaeontology, University of Bristol