29 June 2016
How humans drive speciation as well as extinction
Published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B by Bull, J. and co-author.
A central topic for conservation science is evaluating how human activities influence global species diversity. Humanity exacerbates extinction rates. But by what mechanisms does humanity drive the emergence of new species? We review human-mediated speciation, compare speciation and known extinctions, and discuss the challenges of using net species diversity as a conservation objective. Humans drive rapid evolution through relocation, domestication, hunting and novel ecosystem creation—and emerging technologies could eventually provide additional mechanisms. The number of species relocated, domesticated and hunted during the Holocene is of comparable magnitude to the number of observed extinctions. While instances of human-mediated speciation are known, the overall effect these mechanisms have upon speciation rates has not yet been quantified. We also explore the importance of anthropogenic influence upon divergence in microorganisms. Even if human activities resulted in no net loss of species diversity by balancing speciation and extinction rates, this would probably be deemed unacceptable. We discuss why, based upon ‘no net loss’ conservation literature—considering phylogenetic diversity and other metrics, risk aversion, taboo trade-offs and spatial heterogeneity. We conclude that evaluating speciation alongside extinction could result in more nuanced understanding of biosphere trends, clarifying what it is we actually value about biodiversity.