Societal extinction of species

Trends Ecol Evol. 2022 May;37(5):411-419. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2021.12.011. Epub 2022 Feb 15.


The ongoing global biodiversity crisis not only involves biological extinctions, but also the loss of experience and the gradual fading of cultural knowledge and collective memory of species. We refer to this phenomenon as 'societal extinction of species' and apply it to both extinct and extant taxa. We describe the underlying concepts as well as the mechanisms and factors that affect this process, discuss its main implications, and identify mitigation measures. Societal extinction is cognitively intractable, but it is tied to biological extinction and thus has important consequences for conservation policy and management. It affects societal perceptions of the severity of anthropogenic impacts and of true extinction rates, erodes societal support for conservation efforts, and causes the loss of cultural heritage.

Keywords: collective memory; communicative memory; cultural memory; extinction of experience; shifting baseline syndrome; societal species salience.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Anthropogenic Effects
  • Biodiversity
  • Conservation of Natural Resources*
  • Extinction, Biological*
  • Policy