Colloquium: A Geological Perspective on the Sixth Mass Extinction

Thursday, March 25, 2021 12:00pm to 1:00pm

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Please join us on March 25 at noon as we welcome Dr. Jonathan Payne, Professor and Senior Associate Dean, Department of Geological Sciences, School of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Sciences, Stanford University.

Has the sixth mass extinction event in Earth’s history already begun? If so, what lessons does the fossil record offer for how ecosystems will respond to massive loss of biodiversity? In this talk, I will compare the intensity and selectivity of past mass extinction events to the current biodiversity crisis using field studies of the end-Permian mass extinction as well as a new database of animal sizes and ecological traits spanning both fossil and living species. Geochemical evidence points toward strong similarities between end-Permian climate change and anticipated Both on land and in the ocean, the strongly selective removal of large-bodied animals across many taxonomic groups is unique to the current diversity crisis and appears to be a unique signature of human influence on the biosphere. The geological record provides many past examples of climate warming, ocean acidification, and sea level change that can help to inform projections of future environmental conditions. However, it does not contain a biodiversity crisis with a similar pattern of extinction, adding to the challenge of forecasting future ecosystem function.


Jonathan Payne is Dorrell William Kirby Professor in the Department of Geological Sciences and Senior Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs within the School of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Sciences at Stanford University. He received his B.A. in Geosciences from Williams College in 1997. After two years working as a high school math and science teacher at a boarding school in Switzerland, he returned to graduate school, earning a Ph.D. in Earth and Planetary Sciences from Harvard University in 2005. Following a (brief) post-doctoral fellowship at Penn State, he joined the Stanford faculty in the fall of 2005. His research addresses the relationship between environmental change and biological evolution in the fossil record. His primary focus is on understanding the causes of mass extinctions and the processes that control subsequent recovery of biodiversity and global ecosystems. He and his research group also use global data on fossil occurrence patterns and body sizes to study connections between environmental change and biological evolution over the full history of life, focusing on the evolution of body size and patterns of extinction selectivity. He teaches courses in paleobiology, macroevolution, and carbonate sedimentology. He is the 2015 recipient of the Stanford University Medal for Excellence in Advising Undergraduate Research and of the Charles Schuchert Award from the Paleontological Society for excellence and promise in the science of paleontology.

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