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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2001 May 8;98(10):5389-92.

The biotic crisis and the future of evolution.

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Green College, University of Oxford, Oxford OX2 6HG, and Upper Meadow, Old Road, Oxford OX3 8SZ, United Kingdom.


The biotic crisis overtaking our planet is likely to precipitate a major extinction of species. That much is well known. Not so well known but probably more significant in the long term is that the crisis will surely disrupt and deplete certain basic processes of evolution, with consequences likely to persist for millions of years. Distinctive features of future evolution could include a homogenization of biotas, a proliferation of opportunistic species, a pest-and-weed ecology, an outburst of speciation among taxa that prosper in human-dominated ecosystems, a decline of biodisparity, an end to the speciation of large vertebrates, the depletion of "evolutionary powerhouses" in the tropics, and unpredictable emergent novelties. Despite this likelihood, we have only a rudimentary understanding of how we are altering the evolutionary future. As a result of our ignorance, conservation policies fail to reflect long-term evolutionary aspects of biodiversity loss.

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