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Concept: Local extinction


Top predator loss is a major global problem, with a current trend in biodiversity loss towards high trophic levels that modifies most ecosystems worldwide. Most research in this area is focused on large-bodied predators, despite the high extinction risk of small-bodied freshwater fish that often act as apex consumers. Consequently, it remains unknown if intermittent streams are affected by the consequences of top-predators' extirpations. The aim of our research was to determine how this global problem affects intermittent streams and, in particular, if the loss of a small-bodied top predator (1) leads to a ‘mesopredator release’, affects primary consumers and changes whole community structures, and (2) triggers a cascade effect modifying the ecosystem function. To address these questions, we studied the top-down effects of a small endangered fish species, Barbus meridionalis (the Mediterranean barbel), conducting an enclosure/exclosure mesocosm experiment in an intermittent stream where B. meridionalis became locally extinct following a wildfire. We found that top predator absence led to ‘mesopredator release’, and also to ‘prey release’ despite intraguild predation, which contrasts with traditional food web theory. In addition, B. meridionalis extirpation changed whole macroinvertebrate community composition and increased total macroinvertebrate density. Regarding ecosystem function, periphyton primary production decreased in apex consumer absence. In this study, the apex consumer was functionally irreplaceable; its local extinction led to the loss of an important functional role that resulted in major changes to the ecosystem’s structure and function. This study evidences that intermittent streams can be affected by the consequences of apex consumers' extinctions, and that the loss of small-bodied top predators can lead to large ecosystem changes. We recommend the reintroduction of small-bodied apex consumers to systems where they have been extirpated, to restore ecosystem structure and function.

Concepts: Predation, Ecology, Ecosystem, Extinction, Trophic level, Food chain, Apex predator, Local extinction


Anthropogenic climate change is predicted to be a major cause of species extinctions in the next 100 years. But what will actually cause these extinctions? For example, will it be limited physiological tolerance to high temperatures, changing biotic interactions or other factors? Here, we systematically review the proximate causes of climate-change related extinctions and their empirical support. We find 136 case studies of climatic impacts that are potentially relevant to this topic. However, only seven identified proximate causes of demonstrated local extinctions due to anthropogenic climate change. Among these seven studies, the proximate causes vary widely. Surprisingly, none show a straightforward relationship between local extinction and limited tolerances to high temperature. Instead, many studies implicate species interactions as an important proximate cause, especially decreases in food availability. We find very similar patterns in studies showing decreases in abundance associated with climate change, and in those studies showing impacts of climatic oscillations. Collectively, these results highlight our disturbingly limited knowledge of this crucial issue but also support the idea that changing species interactions are an important cause of documented population declines and extinctions related to climate change. Finally, we briefly outline general research strategies for identifying these proximate causes in future studies.

Concepts: Scientific method, Climate change, Extinction, Solar variation, Global warming, Proximate and ultimate causation, Proximate cause, Local extinction


Invasive mammals on islands pose severe, ongoing threats to global biodiversity. However, the severity of threats from different mammals, and the role of interacting biotic and abiotic factors in driving extinctions, remain poorly understood at a global scale. Here we model global extirpation patterns for island populations of threatened and extinct vertebrates. Extirpations are driven by interacting factors including invasive rats, cats, pigs, mustelids and mongooses, native species taxonomic class and volancy, island size, precipitation and human presence. We show that controlling or eradicating the relevant invasive mammals could prevent 41-75% of predicted future extirpations. The magnitude of benefits varies across species and environments; for example, managing invasive mammals on small, dry islands could halve the extirpation risk for highly threatened birds and mammals, while doing so on large, wet islands may have little benefit. Our results provide quantitative estimates of conservation benefits and, when combined with costs in a return-on-investment framework, can guide efficient conservation strategies.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Evolution, Species, Ecology, Extinction, Dinosaur, Local extinction


Bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) were not known to live on Tiburón Island, the largest island in the Gulf of California and Mexico, prior to the surprisingly successful introduction of 20 individuals as a conservation measure in 1975. Today, a stable island population of ∼500 sheep supports limited big game hunting and restocking of depleted areas on the Mexican mainland. We discovered fossil dung morphologically similar to that of bighorn sheep in a dung mat deposit from Mojet Cave, in the mountains of Tiburón Island. To determine the origin of this cave deposit we compared pellet shape to fecal pellets of other large mammals, and extracted DNA to sequence mitochondrial DNA fragments at the 12S ribosomal RNA and control regions. The fossil dung was 14C-dated to 1476-1632 calendar years before present and was confirmed as bighorn sheep by morphological and ancient DNA (aDNA) analysis. 12S sequences closely or exactly matched known bighorn sheep sequences; control region sequences exactly matched a haplotype described in desert bighorn sheep populations in southwest Arizona and southern California and showed subtle differentiation from the extant Tiburón population. Native desert bighorn sheep previously colonized this land-bridge island, most likely during the Pleistocene, when lower sea levels connected Tiburón to the mainland. They were extirpated sometime in the last ∼1500 years, probably due to inherent dynamics of isolated populations, prolonged drought, and (or) human overkill. The reintroduced population is vulnerable to similar extinction risks. The discovery presented here refutes conventional wisdom that bighorn sheep are not native to Tiburón Island, and establishes its recent introduction as an example of unintentional rewilding, defined here as the introduction of a species without knowledge that it was once native and has since gone locally extinct.

Concepts: DNA, Extinction, Ovis, Mouflon, Bighorn Sheep, Desert Bighorn Sheep, Snow sheep, Local extinction


Identifying local extinctions is integral to estimating species richness and geographic range changes and informing extinction risk assessments. However, the species occurrence records underpinning these estimates are frequently compromised by a lack of recorded species absences making it impossible to distinguish between local extinction and lack of survey effort-for a rigorously compiled database of European and Asian Galliformes, approximately 40% of half-degree cells contain records from before but not after 1980. We investigate the distribution of these cells, finding differences between the Palaearctic (forests, low mean human influence index (HII), outside protected areas (PAs)) and Indo-Malaya (grassland, high mean HII, outside PAs). Such cells also occur more in less peaceful countries. We show that different interpretations of these cells can lead to large over/under-estimations of species richness and extent of occurrences, potentially misleading prioritization and extinction risk assessment schemes. To avoid mistakes, local extinctions inferred from sightings records need to account for the history of survey effort in a locality.

Concepts: Conservation biology, Evolution, Risk, Extinction, Genetic erosion, Biogeography, Gene pool, Local extinction


Few data are available about the regional or local extinction of tropical butterfly species. When confirmed, local extinction was often due to the loss of host-plant species. We used published lists and recent monitoring programs to evaluate changes in butterfly composition on Barro Colorado Island (BCI, Panama) between an old (1923-1943) and a recent (1993-2013) period. Although 601 butterfly species have been recorded from BCI during the 1923-2013 period, we estimate that 390 species are currently breeding on the island, including 34 cryptic species, currently only known by their DNA Barcode Index Number. Twenty-three butterfly species that were considered abundant during the old period could not be collected during the recent period, despite a much higher sampling effort in recent times. We consider these species locally extinct from BCI and they conservatively represent 6% of the estimated local pool of resident species. Extinct species represent distant phylogenetic branches and several families. The butterfly traits most likely to influence the probability of extinction were host growth form, wing size and host specificity, independently of the phylogenetic relationships among butterfly species. On BCI, most likely candidates for extinction were small hesperiids feeding on herbs (35% of extinct species). However, contrary to our working hypothesis, extinction of these species on BCI cannot be attributed to loss of host plants. In most cases these host plants remain extant, but they probably subsist at lower or more fragmented densities. Coupled with low dispersal power, this reduced availability of host plants has probably caused the local extinction of some butterfly species. Many more bird than butterfly species have been lost from BCI recently, confirming that small preserves may be far more effective at conserving invertebrates than vertebrates and, therefore, should not necessarily be neglected from a conservation viewpoint.

Concepts: Conservation biology, Evolution, Species, Plant, Extinction, Gatun Lake, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Local extinction


Mistrust of science has seeped into public perception of the most fundamental aspect of conservation-extinction. The term ought to be straightforward, and yet, there is a disconnect between scientific discussion and public views. This is not a mere semantic issue, rather one of communication. Within a population dynamics context, we say that a species went locally extinct, later to document its return. Conveying our findings matters, for when we use local extinction, an essentially nonsensical phrase, rather than extirpation, which is what is meant, then we contribute to, if not create outright, a problem for public understanding of conservation, particularly as local extinction is often shortened to extinction in media sources. The public that receives the message of our research void of context and modifiers comes away with the idea that extinction is not forever or, worse for conservation as a whole, that an extinction crisis has been invented.

Concepts: Conservation biology, Evolution, Extinction, Local extinction


Over half of globally threatened animal species have experienced rapid geographic range loss. Identifying the parts of species' distributions most vulnerable to extinction would benefit conservation planning. However, previous studies give little consensus on whether ranges decline to the core or edge. Here we build on previous work by using empirical data to examine the position of recent local extinctions within species' geographic ranges, addressing range position as a continuum and exploring the influence of environmental factors. We aggregated point locality data for 125 species of galliform birds across the Palearctic and Indo-Malaya into equal area half degree grid cells and used a multi-species dynamic Bayesian occupancy model to estimate the rates of local extinctions. Our model provides a novel approach to identify loss of populations from within species ranges. We investigated the relationship between extinction rates and distance from range edge, examining whether patterns were consistent across biogeographic realm and different categories of land-use. In the Palearctic, local extinctions occurred closer to the range edge in both unconverted and human-dominated landscapes. In Indo-Malaya, no pattern was found for unconverted landscapes but in human dominated landscapes extinctions tended to occur closer to the core than the edge. Our results suggest that local and regional factors over-ride any general spatial patterns of recent local extinction within species' ranges and highlight the difficulty of predicting the parts of a species' distribution most vulnerable to threat. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: Conservation biology, Evolution, Plant, Endangered species, Extinction, Biogeography, Local extinction


Identifying the factors that determine local extinction of populations is crucial to ensure species conservation. Forest-dwelling primates are especially vulnerable to habitat fragmentation, although few studies have provided systematic evidence of local extinctions. Over an 11-year period, approximately 100 remnant populations of the endangered Coimbra Filho’s titi monkey (Callicebus coimbrai) have been found within the geographic range of the species in Bahia and Sergipe, Northeast Brazil. During the present study, extinction of 13 of these populations was recorded through intensive surveys. These extinctions were detected from evidence of intensive logging and clear-cutting, interviews with local residents and systematic searches of the sites where occurrence of the species had been confirmed in previous surveys. These local extinctions represent approximately 10 % of the known populations of C. coimbrai and up to 28.3 % of the area occupied by the species. Comparison of the vegetation structure in fragments where extinction was recorded and where the species still occurs indicated that sparser understorey may be a correlate of extinction, combined with the fact that extinctions occurred within fragments characterised by relatively high levels of anthropogenic disturbance. These findings reinforce the Endangered status of the species and the urgent need for intensification of conservation measures within the most impacted areas of the geographic distribution of C. coimbrai.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Endangered species, Extinction, Genetic erosion, Pitheciidae, Local extinction, Titis


Habitat loss and fragmentation are causing widespread population declines, but identifying how and when to intervene remains challenging. Predicting where localized extinctions are likely to occur and implementing management actions before losses eventuate may be more cost-effective than trying to re-establish lost populations. Early indicators of pressure on populations could be used to make such predictions. In 2009/2010, the presence of Eastern Yellow Robins (Eopsaltria australis) within 42 sites in a fragmented region of eastern Australia was found to be unrelated to woodland extent within 500 m of a site, but the robins' heterophil:lymphocyte ratios (an indicator of chronic stress) were elevated in less-wooded sites. Such sites may be poorer quality with a higher probability of local extinction. Four years later, we resurveyed these 42 sites for robin presence to test whether 1) previously-measured H:L ratios could predict where local extinctions would occur and 2) the previous pattern in H:L ratios was an early sign that woodland extent would emerge as a predictor of occupancy. We also surveyed robin occupancy at an additional 43 sites to determine whether current occupancy could be better predicted by landscape context at a larger scale, relevant to dispersal movements. We found no relationship between H:L ratios and localized extinctions; although, only four were observed. However, woodland extent did emerge as a strong predictor of occupancy, so the evidence was mixed as to whether patterns of individual condition could reveal habitat relationships that become evident as local shifts in occupancy occur, but that are not uncovered by a snapshot of species distribution. Woodland extent at larger scales relevant to dispersal (5 km) was not related to occurrence. We recommend that conservation actions be focused on regenerating neighborhoods of habitat large enough to support robin territories, rather than increasing connectivity within the landscape. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: Scientific method, Population, Prediction, Futurology, Extinction, Habitat fragmentation, Habitat destruction, Local extinction