Evol Ecol Res 17: 787-813 (2016)     Full PDF if your library subscribes.

Opportunity for some, extinction for others: the fate of tetrapods in the Anthropocene

Katherine A. Solari1, Hannah K. Frank1*, Luke O. Frishkoff1,2*, Jeremy L. Hsu1*, Melissa E. Kemp1*, Alexis M. Mychajliw1* and Elizabeth A. Hadly1,3,4

1Department of Biology, Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA, 2Center for Conservation Biology, Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA, 3Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA and 4Center for Innovation in Global Health, Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA

Correspondence: K.A. Solari, Department of Biology, Stanford University, 371 Serra Mall, Stanford, CA 94305-5020, USA. email: ksolari@stanford.edu


Question: Are there general traits that will foster the persistence of terrestrial vertebrates (Superclass Tetrapoda) through the challenges of the Anthropocene?

Methods: We identified five primary anthropogenic threats to terrestrial biodiversity: habitat change, direct interaction/exploitation, invasive species, climate change, and pollution. We summarized four attributes that are frequently assumed to promote species’ persistence: ability to maintain high genetic diversity, phenotypic and behavioural plasticity, generalism, and fortuitous evolutionary history. We then reviewed the literature to assess their effectiveness in helping tetrapods to face anthropogenic threats.

Results and conclusion: Our literature review of hundreds of articles illustrates that all four attributes are indeed beneficial. However, only a species’ evolutionary history promotes resilience to all five anthropogenic stressors. The most consistent trends across taxa are that plasticity buffers species against climate change and deleterious consequences from invasive species, while generalism benefits species threatened with habitat change. There is limited evidence demonstrating that high genetic diversity aids in species persistence and there appears to be few attributes that can help species avoid the negative impacts of pollutants.

Keywords: climate change, evolutionary history, exploitation, generalism, genetic diversity, habitat change, invasive species, plasticity, pollution.

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