As we reported earlier, a recent study from scientists at Oxford University has cracked the case on the extinction of the massive shark-like reptile of the cretaceous period, the ichthyosaur. The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, asserts that a changing climate paired with a slow evolutionary progression eventually resulted in the ichthyosaur completely disappearing from the face of the Earth.
According to the study’s lead author Dr. Valentin Fischer of the Universities of Liege in Belgium and Oxford in the U.K., “We analyzed the extinction of this crucial marine group thoroughly for the first time. We compared the diversity of ichthyosaurs with the geological record of global change, emphasizing the dynamics of these datasets.”
The scientists found that although ichthyosaurs were surprisingly diverse during the height of their time on Earth, they evolved much slower than their evolutionary predecessors. Their inability to adapt to a changing climate sealed their fate. Dr. Fischer stated that the rate of ichthyosaur extinction correlated to volatility in the environment of the time.
While it isn’t always easy to determine the exact cause of a species’ extinction, the tale of the ichthyosaur paints a vivid image of how an inability to adapt and a rapidly changing climate can spell disaster.
Some scientists warn that the current changes to the global climate have already begun another mass extinction event. Widespread changes in global temperature and precipitation patterns, as well as ocean acidification and pollution can have a cumulative effect on habitats that change them faster than the species that live there can adapt.
Researchers now fear that extinction rates are paralleling those of one of the last true mass extinctions of life on Earth, the same event that led to the disappearance of dinosaurs some 66 million years ago. Even with conservative estimates, scientists warn, species are disappearing as much as 100 times faster than the normal rate between mass extinction events.
Climate change meant trouble for the ichthyosaur, and it could soon mean trouble for many species today.
A news release from Oxford University describing the details of the recent study can be found here.