Reconstructing past species assemblages reveals the changing patterns and drivers of extinction through time

Lindell Bromham, Robert Lanfear, Phillip Cassey, Gillian Gibb, Marcel Cardillo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

14 Citations (Scopus)


Predicting future species extinctions from patterns of past extinctions or current threat status relies on the assumption that the taxonomic and biological selectivity of extinction is consistent through time. If the driving forces of extinction change through time, this assumption may be unrealistic. Testing the consistency of extinction patterns between the past and the present has been difficult, because the phylogenetically explicit methods used to model present-day extinction risk typically cannot be applied to the data from the fossil record. However, the detailed historical and fossil records of the New Zealand avifauna provide a unique opportunity to reconstruct a complete, large faunal assemblage for different periods in the past. Using the first complete phylogeny of all known native New Zealand bird species, both extant and extinct, we show how the taxonomic and phylogenetic selectivity of extinction, and biological correlates of extinction, change from the pre-human period through Polynesian and European occupation, to the present. These changes can be explained both by changes in primary threatening processes, and by the operation of extinction filter effects. The variable patterns of extinction through time may confound attempts to identify risk factors that apply across time periods, and to infer future species declines from past extinction patterns and current threat status.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4024-4032
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B : biological sciences
Issue number1744
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Extinction filter
  • Extinction risk
  • Macroecology
  • Comparative method
  • New Zealand
  • Birds

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