FREE Public Lecture:
Climate Change Adaptation Lecture & Film Series - part 1
ROSS D. E. MacPHEE, Department of Mammalogy, American Museum of Natural History, New York
Toward the end of the last ice age, a series of mysterious extinctions affected mammals (and, to a lesser extent, birds and reptiles) over much of the planet. These extinctions were peculiar in several respects. On mainlands, large (megafaunal) species were at particular risk. On islands, whole vertebrate faunas disappeared or were reduced to a fraction of their former diversity. Some losses appear to have occurred very suddenly, while others seem to have been rather protracted. And they were not synchronous. Thus the continental Americas experienced their greatest losses around 11,000 years ago, with the disappearance of mammoths, mastodonts, ground sloths, sabertoothed cats, horses, and much else besides (at least 130+ species). Similar dieoffs occurred in Australia/New Guinea 50,000 years ago, in some of the islands in the central Mediterranean 8000 years ago, and in Madagascar fewer than 1000 years ago. Astoundingly, nearby Africa escaped almost unscathed.
What caused the late Quaternary extinctions is still a major scientific puzzle. Current explanations include the possibility that humans were responsible (“over-kill”), or climate change (“over-chill”), or emerging infectious diseases (“over-ill”), and even fireballs raining from outer space (“over-grill”). I will discuss how scientists are using new tools, such as ancient DNA, to shed new light on this problem, and how the new science of synthetic biology may someday permit us to “de-extinct” some of the disappeared---even woolly mammoths!
This is a free event.