Annals of the Entomological Society of America (2021) 114, 99-118

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Sandra R. Schachat and Conrad C. Labandeira (2021)
Are insects heading toward their first mass extinction? Distinguishing turnover from crises in their fossil record
Annals of the Entomological Society of America 114 (2), 99-118
Abstract: Time and again, over hundreds of millions of years, environmental disturbances have caused mass extinctions of animals ranging from reptiles to corals. The anthropogenic loss of species diversity happening now is often discussed as the 'sixth mass extinction' in light of the 'Big Five' mass extinctions in the fossil record. But insects, whose taxonomic diversity now appears to be threatened by human activity, have a unique extinction history. Prehistoric losses of insect diversity at the levels of order and family appear to have been driven by competition among insect lineages, with biotic replacement ensuring minimal net losses in taxonomic diversity. The end-Permian extinction, the 'mother of mass extinctions' in the seas, was more of a faunal turnover than a mass extinction for insects. Insects' current biotic crisis has been measured in terms of the loss of abundance and biomass (rather than the loss of species, genera, or families) and these are essentially impossible to measure in the fossil record. However, should the ongoing loss of insect abundance and biomass cause the demise of many insect families, the current extinction event may well be the first sudden loss of higher-level insect diversity in our planet's history. This is not insects' sixth mass extinction—in fact, it may become their first.
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