Mammal diversity will take millions of years to recover from the current biodiversity crisis

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 Oct 30;115(44):11262-11267. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1804906115. Epub 2018 Oct 15.


The incipient sixth mass extinction that started in the Late Pleistocene has already erased over 300 mammal species and, with them, more than 2.5 billion y of unique evolutionary history. At the global scale, this lost phylogenetic diversity (PD) can only be restored with time as lineages evolve and create new evolutionary history. Given the increasing rate of extinctions however, can mammals evolve fast enough to recover their lost PD on a human time scale? We use a birth-death tree framework to show that even if extinction rates slow to preanthropogenic background levels, recovery of lost PD will likely take millions of years. These findings emphasize the severity of the potential sixth mass extinction and the need to avoid the loss of unique evolutionary history now.

Keywords: diversification rate; evolutionary distinctiveness; mammals; mass extinction; phylogenetic diversity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biodiversity
  • Biological Evolution
  • Extinction, Biological
  • Humans
  • Mammals / classification*
  • Mammals / genetics
  • Phylogeny