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Surviving the Anthropocene: a story of biological gains as well as losses

Wednesday 30 November 2016, 1.00PM

Speaker(s): Professor Chris Thomas, Department of Biology, University of York

Abstract- today, we contemplate the biological losses that are taking place on Earth, as humans exterminate species, remove habitats, alter the atmosphere and ocean chemistry, change the climate, and unleash invasive species across the planet.  Some suggest that we are already en route to the Sixth Mass Extinction.  Yet, life on Earth is a story of gains as well as losses, and the processes that generate diversity did not suddenly stop when humans pitched up on the planet.  In fact, they accelerated – change is how life on our planet has always survived, and this remains true in the Anthropocene.  I will argue that a majority of species are spreading into new areas (at least somewhere in their ranges) and that the diversity of species is growing in nearly all regions of the world, as a consequence of human activities.  I will also argue that increasing numbers of species are adapting genetically to the human-modified world, and that new species are starting to form.  Bizarre as it might seem, the speciation rate on Earth (on land) during the Anthropocene could possibly be higher than ever before, and the Earth may eventually end up with more species than it started with.  The evolution of humans could be initiating a Sixth Great Genesis.  Since gains are taking place, humans should not treat nature like an old master that requires restoration, but develop a conservation philosophy that accepts and promulgates change that is beneficial to humans.

Host: Bob White

Location: P/X/001

Admission: Open