A Long Slide Toward Oblivion

November 6, 2016

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BUFFALO, NY - Mass extinction is often thought to be a rapid and sudden event: in one moment a particular species is present; the next it is not.  But new research co-authored by Physics Professor H. David Sheets, PhD, indicates that, for some species, it’s a long slide toward oblivion. 

Sheets and SUNY colleague Charles E. Mitchell, PhD, professor of geology studied nearly 22,000 fossils of ancient plankton (organisms that live in the water).  They found that these communities began changing in important ways as much as 400,000 years before their massive die-offs ensued during the first of Earth’s five great extinctions.  The finding suggests that “the effects of environmental degradation can be subtle until they reach a tipping point, at which dramatic declines in population begin,” explains Sheets.

The turmoil, which occurred in a time of ancient climate change, “could hold lessons for the modern world,” concludes Sheets.