The sixth mass coextinction: are most endangered species parasites and mutualists?

Proc Biol Sci. 2009 Sep 7;276(1670):3037-45. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2009.0413. Epub 2009 May 27.


The effects of species declines and extinction on biotic interactions remain poorly understood. The loss of a species is expected to result in the loss of other species that depend on it (coextinction), leading to cascading effects across trophic levels. Such effects are likely to be most severe in mutualistic and parasitic interactions. Indeed, models suggest that coextinction may be the most common form of biodiversity loss. Paradoxically, few historical or contemporary coextinction events have actually been recorded. We review the current knowledge of coextinction by: (i) considering plausible explanations for the discrepancy between predicted and observed coextinction rates; (ii) exploring the potential consequences of coextinctions; (iii) discussing the interactions and synergies between coextinction and other drivers of species loss, particularly climate change; and (iv) suggesting the way forward for understanding the phenomenon of coextinction, which may well be the most insidious threat to global biodiversity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Conservation of Natural Resources
  • Ecosystem
  • Extinction, Biological*
  • Food Chain
  • Greenhouse Effect
  • Host-Parasite Interactions
  • Models, Biological*
  • Population Dynamics
  • Species Specificity
  • Symbiosis