Lessons from a kill

Published

Journal Article

During their colonization by Polynesians and later by Europeans, the Hawaiian islands suffered a massive loss of species. All the extinctions are indirectly attributable to human impact. Nonetheless, it has proved extremely difficult to specify which of several possible mechanisms caused each particular extinction. This seems to admit defeat in the battle to understand past extinctions. Such understanding could guide our efforts to protect species that are now threatened with extinction. Will it be easier to understand the causes of future extinctions? Surveys of future extinctions stress habitat destruction as the simple and dominant mechanism. This contrasts to its secondary (and generally confused) role in past extinctions. I argue that this contrast between the complexity of the past and the apparent simplicity of the future arises because extinction mechanisms are inherently synergistic. Once extensive species losses begin, it may be impossible to separate the mechanisms and thus manage an individual species as if its decline had a single cause.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Pimm, SL

Published Date

  • January 1, 1996

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 5 / 9

Start / End Page

  • 1059 - 1067

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0960-3115

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1007/BF00052716

Citation Source

  • Scopus