Coextinction: anecdotes, models, and speculation
Nearly all conservation and extinction research focuses on vertebrates and plants, but most organisms on earth are poorly studied or undescribed invertebrates, the majority of which are parasites or commensals. However, very little remains known about invertebrate coextinctions following the extinction of host species. The limited empirical evidence for recent host-affiliate coextinctions and extinction chains is critically reviewed, but provides little insight into the frequency or broader significance of this process. Models which attempt to estimate the frequency with which coextinctions occur at a global scale suggest that these events should be at least as common as host extinctions, with similar rates predicted for total numbers of prehistoric coextinctions across the Holocene. We can reconcile these two observations if the vast majority of coextinctions are unobserved, or alternately if parasites and mutualists are actually much less host-specific or are much more able to switch hosts than is currently assumed.
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