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Tropical Marine Ecosystems Most Threatened by Humans

May 01, 2015 06:03 PM EDT

(Photo : Andrew Baird)

Overfishing, pollution, habitat loss and climate change are all factors that are threatening marine life. But new research has determined that human influence the most threatening to tropical marine ecosystems.

An international team of scientists has used the fossil record during the past 23 million years to predict which marine animals and ecosystems are at greatest risk of extinction from human impact.

The published their findings in the journal Science.

While many species across the world are in danger of extinction, the research team found that those animals and ecosystems most threatened are predominantly in the tropics.

"Marine species are under threat from human impacts, but knowledge of their vulnerabilities is limited," study co-author, Professor John Pandolfi, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at the University of Queensland, said in a statement.

The researchers found that the predictors of extinction vulnerability, geographic range size and the type of organism, have remained consistent over the past 23 million years.

As such, they were able to use fossil records to assess the baseline extinction risk for marine animals, including sharks, whales and dolphins, as well as small sedentary organisms such as snails, clams and corals.

They then mapped the regions where those species with a high intrinsic risk are most affected today by human impact and climate change.

"Our goal was to diagnose which species are vulnerable in the modern world, using the past as a guide" explained lead author Seth Finnegan.

"We used these estimates to map natural extinction risk in modern oceans, and compare it with recent human pressures on the ocean such as fishing, and climate change to identify the areas most at risk," added Pandolfi.

"These regions are disproportionately in the tropics, raising the possibility that these ecosystems may be particularly vulnerable to future extinctions."

Now, by identifying that tropical marine ecosystems are most threatened by humans, scientists can improve their conservation efforts.

"Our findings can help prioritize areas and species that might be at greater risk of extinction and that might require extra attention, conservation or management - protecting vulnerable species in vulnerable places," concluded study co-author Dr. Sean Anderson.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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